The New Hampshire Senate on May 5 shot down an abortion statistics bill, tabling it after passage failed on a 12-12 vote. The failure of HB 629 capped a seventeen-month effort to craft a law that would permit collection of abortion statistics while protecting the privacy of all parties involved in an abortion.
Supporting HB 629 were twelve Republicans: Senators Forrester, Bradley, Cataldo, Sanborn, Daniels, Avard, Carson, Boutin, Reagan, Birdsell, Morse and Prescott.
Opposing HB 629 were ten Democrats and two Republicans: Senators Woodburn (d), Watters (d), Pierce (d), Hosmer (d), Little (r), Kelly (d), Lasky (d), Feltes (d), Soucy (d), D’Allesandro (d), Fuller Clark (d) and Stiles (r).
Why fight stats collection?
The full debate should be available on the Senate web site shortly. Look for the recording from May 5; the debate began early in the afternoon session.
Senator Kevin Avard presented the “ought to pass” committee recommendation for the bill. Opponents then launched into objections, which I paraphrase thus – and anyone who wants to listen to the original statements may do so via the link in the preceding paragraph:
- The bill calls for a $135,000 expenditure to set up the stats-gathering program, and there was no proper fiscal note to the bill.
- A woman has a constitutional right to abortion and therefore gathering statistics is an intrusive no-no. I’m not sure the senator making that claim would argue the same way about Second Amendment rights, but I frankly don’t follow 2A bills closely enough to know.
- Gathering stats would violate a woman’s privacy. That ignored the fact that the committee that crafted HB 629 was concerned about privacy from the outset, and the resulting legislation called for release of aggregate data with no personally-identifying information.
- No other medical procedure (“and abortion IS a medical procedure,” Senator Kelly admonished her colleagues), and certainly nothing that would apply to men, is subject to the statistics-gathering requirements of this bill, and therefore collecting abortion statistics is discriminatory.
- There is no “compelling need” to gather this information, since “abortion is a safe procedure.” The senator making that claim did not point out that there are no New Hampshire statistics to buttress the safety claim.
And so on. A woman has a right to abort, and in New Hampshire she has no corresponding right to any data about the safety of the procedure she seeks. Public health officials have no right to information on maternal morbidity following abortion, never mind if there are providers responsible for any untoward outcomes.
What the Centers for Disease Control says
When HB 629 was introduced in January 2015, New Hampshire was one of only three states not reporting abortion data to the federal Centers for Disease Control, which monitors abortion as a matter of public health.
“CDC began abortion surveillance in 1969 to document the number and characteristics of women obtaining legal induced abortions. Many states and reporting areas (New York City and the District of Columbia) conduct abortion surveillance. CDC compiles the information these reporting areas collect to produce national estimates. CDC’s surveillance system compiles information on legal induced abortions only….[S]tates and areas voluntarily report data to CDC…
“This report is used for many purposes in the field of public health. In the past, it has been used to:
-Identify characteristics of women who are at high risk of unintended pregnancy.
-Evaluate the effectiveness of programs for reducing teen pregnancies and unintended pregnancies among women of all ages.
-Calculate pregnancy rates, on the basis of the number of pregnancies ending in abortion, in conjunction with birth data and pregnancy loss estimates.
-Monitor changes in clinical practice patterns related to abortion, such as changes in the types of procedures used, and weeks of gestation at the time of abortion. This information is needed to calculate the mortality rate of specific abortion procedures.
“Surveillance systems, such as this one, continue to provide data necessary to examine trends in public health.” [emphasis added]
The painstaking development of the bill
HB 629 was introduced in January 2015 and was retained a month later for further study, with the results to be presented to the House in January 2016.
I was present for most of the study meetings on this bill; the full docket is included as an image below. Participants in the study included legislators from the House Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, along with representatives of the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Vital Records.
Also welcomed at the table were a representative of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and myself. Early in the process, I was representing Cornerstone Action, a policy group. After I left Cornerstone, the committee members continued to welcome my participation in the discussions. All meetings were posted in advance and open to the public.
Planned Parenthood had never supported a stats bill in New Hampshire before, and it was the hope of the HB 629’s sponsors that a variety of voices in the discussion could yield a workable bill.
All of us – regardless of party or any other affiliation – agreed from day one that patient privacy was critical to any statistics-gathering effort. Rep. Kathleen Souza, chief sponsor of HB 629, looked at what states with abortion statistics laws have done, and members of the study committee had access to that information.
When HB 629 returned to the House in January of this year, it did so in a version amended to incorporate the findings and concerns that came up in the study process. The Health Human Services & Elderly Affairs committee voted 12-1 to recommend “ought to pass” on the amended bill. It passed the House on a voice vote on January 6. The committee report to the full House contained this statement: “All stakeholders agreed to the final version of the bill.”
And then two “stakeholders” deserted. Planned Parenthood reverted to type. The other entity to drop its support was the state Department of Health and Human Services, now headed by a commissioner recently appointed by Governor Hassan.
Nothing in the bill changed between House passage and Senate consideration. The only change was in the political winds. Against those, public health didn’t stand a chance.
With the tabling of HB 629, New Hampshire public health officials will continue to rely on self-reporting by a few abortion providers.
Since there is no restriction in New Hampshire on who may perform abortions, public health officials will continue to be ignorant about who’s providing them and therefore will have no way of knowing if a provider has a history of harming women.
Information on pregnancy rates – legitimate public-health data, in the CDC’s view – will remain in by-guess-and-by-golly territory, with no reliable induced-abortion information to factor into the rate.
At what point in pregnancy are abortions being performed in New Hampshire? Surgical or chemical (“medical”) abortions? Complication rates? All remain unknown to public health officials and to women seeking abortion in New Hampshire.
The reason for New Hampshire’s willed ignorance is a mystery. Statistics are collected in nearly every other state, with women’s privacy protected and abortion in no way restricted by statistics laws. Statistics laws simply do not affect abortion rights or availability. Stats are a matter of women’s health.
On a 12-12 vote on May 5, women’s health got thumbs-down in the New Hampshire Senate.
(Photo of New Hampshire Senate chamber by Leon Rideout.)