NH reps try again for a stats bill, and they’re finding resistance

Background

Legislative Office Building, Concord NH
Legislative Office Building, Concord NH

New Hampshire’s House Bill 1502 made its 2014 debut before a skeptical audience last week. Eight sponsors are behind this effort to collect New Hampshire abortion statistics. No names from the patients – just information about the particular termination procedure. The bill doesn’t even require that post-abortion injury or maternal death be reported, and that’s a huge concession to pro-abortion sensibilities. How hard should this be?

From what I saw and heard this at the hearing, the answer is “harder than you think.”

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee (HHSEA) allotted 45 minutes for the hearing, but chairman James MacKay (D-Concord) courteously extended it so that the dozen or so people who signed up to testify could all be heard the same day.

From my notes at the proceedings

Who’s counting now? Chief sponsor Rep. Kathy Souza (R-Manchester) delivered the first testimony. She pointed out to the committee what my readers already know, namely that pro-life witnesses stand outside the PP office in Manchester on Thursdays to count the cars going in on surgical-abortion days. Right now, that’s the only effort anyone makes to track in a public way how many abortions occur at that particular facility. She also reminded the committee of former President Clinton’s mantra “safe, legal, and rare,” pointing out that collecting statistics would give New Hampshire residents and public health officials an idea of just how rare it is.

Keep cloaking those “providers”: Keeping abortionists anonymous was as great a concern to some committee members as protecting the privacy of patients. Any collection of statistics that would tend to indicate a provider’s location would not meet with approval from a big chunk of the committee, not to mention PPNNE, the NH Civil Liberties Union, and NARAL Pro-Choice NH. No location information, plus no reporting on post-abortion maternal injury or mortality, means no statistics on providers with poor records. So much for women’s health.

Team spirit: It’s sometimes tough for representatives to testify on their own bills, since multiple hearings go on at the same time and one rep might have several bills. It’s therefore worth noting that six of the eight co-sponsors were present. One, Rep. DonLeBrun, is on the HHSEA committee. Others who came and provided testimony, besides Rep. Souza, were Lenette Peterson and Jeanine Notter (both R-Merrimack), Jane Cormier (R-Alton), and Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry).

How much is all this going to cost? Among the objections thrown up by Jennifer Frizzell of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England was the cost of the bill, estimated by the legislative budget office to be $85,814 in the first year and increasing to $94,462 in the fourth year. To put that in perspective, I see from my own records that according to PPNNE’s form 990 for tax year 2009, each of their their six highest-compensated employees earned at least $110,000 that year. PPNNE is a state contractor.

Aggregate data: The lobbyists for PPNNE, NARAL, and NHCLU all acknowledged under questioning that “aggregate” statistical data would be acceptable. I’ve already mentioned their concern for provider privacy. They also expressed concern for patient privacy, a concern shared by the sponsors of the bill. How the language that satisfies the sponsors leaves the lobbyists unsatisfied is a mystery that might be addressed in subcommittee – if the chairman chooses to name one.

And by the way, PPNNE already collects data in VT and ME. This fact came out when the PPNNE lobbyist was being questioned. The “Northern New England” in the name refers to New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine – and the latter two states already provide data to the CDC. PP could live with a stats law in NH.

Best committee questions: All the concern from PPNNE about patient privacy prompted Rep. Stephen Schmidt (R-Wolfeboro) to ask an astute question: where have instances of privacy violation occurred in New Hampshire in relation to public health statistics? “I meant in other states,” Frizzell replied.  Not to be outdone in the Astute Question department, Rep. Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield) asked Frizzell if PP’s concern for patient privacy had thus far moved the organization to lodge any complaints at the federal level about privacy concerns within the Affordable Care Act. Flustered for a moment (and that doesn’t happen often), Frizzell quickly recovered her composure and said she wasn’t aware of any such concerns.

Guest appearance: Rep. Candace Bouchard (D-Concord) was assigned by the House Speaker to sit as a committee member that morning to take the place of an absent member. Coincidentally, Bouchard heads the House “reproductive rights caucus” and managed to work her favorite epithet, “anti-choice,” into her questioning of one of the bill’s supporters. She also took up her longstanding grudge about pro-life presence outside abortion facilities, talking about a “history of violence” and how she has been told to wear a bulletproof vest when escorting women into abortion facilities. How that figures into statistical data is a mystery known only to her. She also refuses to acknowledge any difference between peaceful pro-life witnesses and the murderers who in killing abortion industry workers forfeit any claim to being pro-life.

The doctor was in: Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye) is a doctor on HHSEA, and he questioned Souza closely about not only provider anonymity but also his concern that the bill calls for a penalty for doctors who fail to report statistics. “Do you know that a criminal conviction means losing a medical license?” Souza replied that the law needed teeth if it were to be taken seriously. Sherman went on to question the cost of the bill. “These women are worth $90,000 a year,” said Souza, a point Sherman did not see fit to dispute.

Next steps

A committee vote is probably a couple of weeks off.  Amendments are likely.

As I’ve written before and as the sponsors told the committee, New Hampshire stands with California and Maryland as the only states that don’t report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control. To some people, that indicates New Hampshire is a “pro-choice” state. To me, it indicates that public health officials dropped the ball a long time ago. If it takes a legislature to order them to pick it up, I say go for it.

 

 

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