House panel supports restrictions on abortion providers

·2 min read

Mar. 23—CONCORD — All abortion providers would be required to have free-standing clinics — separate from their programs that offer counseling, cancer screenings and other health services for women — under language approved Monday by House budget writers.

State Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, chairs the working group of the House Finance Committee, which makes recommendations for spending and other policies in the Department of Health and Human Services, the state's largest agency.

Edwards made the recommendation to be added to the longstanding policy in past state budgets that prevents state or federal money from being spent on abortions.

"Most of the clinics that accept the family planning money historically have not operated under the same roof of a reproductive health facility," Edwards said.

But Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, said this change would cause financial hardship to these nonprofit health care providers.

"These health centers are not blessed with a large amount of money; they have had a lot of difficulty dealing with the loss of federal funding in the past few years," Rogers said. "There is a split down the middle on this and I don't think the Finance Committee should be in the position of deciding whether the House is pro-choice or pro-life."

The working group endorsed the change along party lines, 4-3, with all four Republicans in support and all three Democrats opposed.

Edwards said for these providers "all money is fungible," and the amendment is meant to prevent these providers from mixing grant spending.

He said other health care practices are separated in this manner. For example, those running orthopedic medical practices are not permitted to refer patients for radiology programs under the same ownership, Edwards said.

Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, had at first proposed that groups that get family planning grants be blocked from providing abortions.

"Abortion is a constitutionally protected medical procedure and although I am pro-life, I am very pro-Constitution," Edwards said.

The full House Finance Committee will discuss the recommendation in the coming weeks as it puts the finishing touches on its proposed two-year $13 billion budget plan (HB 1).

The House working group will also be debating how much family planning money to give the programs.

In the current state budget, the Democratically-controlled Legislature in 2019 substituted state dollars to replace cuts in federal grants the Trump administration had carried out.

House GOP leaders want to cut that state spending for the next two years, as the Biden administration has already announced it would change the policy.

But Rep. Rogers said program sponsors maintain they need state support to remain in place until the spring of 2022, because that's how long it will take before the policy change is effective.