NH House votes to limit minors' abortions

March 16, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire's Republican-controlled House voted Wednesday to reinstate a requirement that girls first tell their parents or a judge before getting an abortion.

The House voted 256-102 to reinstate an unenforced law that was stripped from the books under Democrats that requires 48 hours' notice before the girls can get an abortion. The bill says abortions can be performed without notice to avert the mother's death or if a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function. The girls also can seek a judge's permission to get the abortion without telling their parents.

The Senate next takes up the bill.

House GOP leaders backed it as a parents' right issue. Deputy House Speaker Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland, said parental involvement is a fundamental right.

State Rep. Kathleen Souza, a Manchester Republican and the bill's prime sponsor, said the bill was modeled after laws in other states that have been found constitutional.

"I beg you. Do not keep parents out of their children's lives any longer," she said.

But state Rep. Kyle Tasker, R-Northwood, said the bill would hurt girls who can't talk to their parents. Those girls would have to go to court, he said, predicting that 60 would do so each year at a cost to the state of $4,000 per case. He criticized the bill for not taking into account a cost of $240,000 a year.

State Rep. Brandon Giuda, R-Chichester, disputed those numbers as too high. He estimated the annual cost to the state would be $40,000 -- 20 cases per year at a cost of $2,000 per case. He said the state can afford that.

State Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, questioned how the girls who choose to go to court could expect privacy. In her district, they would have to walk past the bookkeeping department, she said.

"That is not confidential," Weber said.

Four years ago, Democratic Gov. John Lynch made New Hampshire the first state to repeal a law requiring parental notification for minors to get abortions. Lynch said the unenforced law was unconstitutional because it failed to protect the safety of young women. Lynch supports adult involvement in the decisions, but is noncommittal about the House bill.

NARAL Pro-Choice America's 2011's guide to state laws says 43 states have parental notice or consent laws. Some require both notice and consent.

In 2003, New Hampshire passed a parental notification law that required abortion providers to notify at least one parent 48 hours or more before performing an abortion on a minor. Republicans dominated the House and Senate then as they do now, but the bill only passed the House by six votes and by one vote in the Senate.

Republican Gov. Craig Benson signed it into law, but it was never was enforced because Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and others filed suit.

It was the first law regulating abortions in New Hampshire since the Legislature -- under Benson's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, now a U.S. senator -- repealed three criminal abortion statutes dating to 1848.

A federal judge declared the parental notification law unconstitutional in late 2003 because it lacked a provision to forego notification in emergencies where the health of the mother was at stake.

The state appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court sent it back to the federal court in New Hampshire to determine if the law could be salvaged. U.S. District Judge Joseph DiClerico put the case on hold while the Legislature acted.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who was attorney general at the time, led the state's appeal.

The law's supporters tried unsuccessfully to amend it to grant some form of health exception in emergencies.

After Democrats won control in the 2006 election, they moved quickly to strip the law from the books in 2007.