How NH’s Secretary of State Could Affect Abortion Statistics

Former Executive Councilor Colin “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” Van Ostern is campaigning to replace New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner. The vote will be taken on December 5 by the newly-elected House and Senate in Concord. The result will have implications for an important pro-life policy goal.

[Update, 12/6/18: Secretary of State Gardner narrowly won re-election over Mr. Van Ostern.]

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From June 2016: then-Executive Councilors Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern before voting Yes on contracts with abortion providers.

New Hampshire is one of very few states that does not report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a public health measure. If – excuse me, when – New Hampshire finally puts women’s health ahead of lesser concerns, two state departments will be involved in any statistics program: the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which oversees public health issues, and the Department of State, which oversees the Division of Vital Records.

That’s why it matters who holds the position of New Hampshire Secretary of State. The administrative framework for carrying out any statistics-collection program will be handled by the team in the vital records office. If that office answers to a pro-abortion Secretary of State, I don’t believe cooperation with an abortion statistics law will be forthcoming.

In past discussions to which I’ve been a party regarding proposed abortion-statistics legislation, a representative of the vital records office has been present. At every point, that representative has been scrupulously neutral on abortion, assuring policymakers that the division can find and implement any necessary software and procedures to collect abortion statistics in a manner that respects the privacy of all individuals.

Whenever a legislative policy committee has had a hearing on abortion and has requested input from the vital records office, that has been the essence of the office’s message: you tell us what you want collected – and since this is information other states are already collecting and reporting to the CDC, we’re not talking rocket science here – and we’ll get the job done.

That’s been the policy under Bill Gardner. Mr. Gardner is a Democrat, but at no point in his tenure as Secretary of State has that made a difference to him. He has carried out every aspect of his job in a nonpartisan manner. Andrew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy summed it up:

…Gardner gave his loyalty to the office, never to a party or person. Being his friend, as many legislators have been, was no help if your race was close. Being a member of his political party was no help, either. And everyone knew it.

Gardner always understood that the survival of a democratic republic requires trust in its institutions. If the state’s top election official showed even hints of favoritism, trust in the system would erode. And that would undermine our whole experiment in republican government.

Newly-elected Democrats in the New Hampshire House held a straw poll not long ago. Van Ostern won in a landslide. Since then, many New Hampshire officials – including Democrats former Gov. John Lynch and current Sen. Lou D’Allesandro – have spoken up about why they support Gardner for Secretary of State. Will their endorsements make a difference? We’ll find out on December 5.

That’s when the New Hampshire House and Senate will meet in joint session. First order of business will be swearing in the victors of November’s election. Democrats will be in the majority. Then comes the vote for Secretary of State.

The result is going to matter.

Final “Exemptions” Announced to HHS/Obamacare Mandate

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is issuing two final rules revising the Obamacare contraception mandate, in an effort to relieve those with religious and moral objections from compelled contraceptive insurance coverage. Not a moment too soon, either. Read Wesley J. Smith’s summary of the rules here.

HHS describes the rules:

The first of today’s final rules provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. The second final rule provides protections to nonprofit organizations and small businesses that have non-religious moral convictions opposing services covered by the mandate.

The religious and moral exemptions provided by these rules also apply to institutions of education, issuers, and individuals.

The Departments are not extending the moral exemption to publicly traded businesses, or either exemption to government entities.

I’ve written at length about the Obamacare mandate that contraceptives for women be treated as “preventive” health care. The mandate was and is wrong on at least two levels: its assumption that women are broken and need to be fixed, and its attack on the First Amendment rights of employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby who have religious or moral objections to helping provide or procure contraceptives, abortifacient or otherwise, for employees.

The new rules may be as close to a solution as can be achieved, with exemptions to the mandate now much broader than before. But there shouldn’t need to be exemptions, because the mandate shouldn’t exist.

President Trump’s Administration is right to recognize the threat to religious liberty posed by the mandate. But this president is no more likely than the previous one to back away from the public policy that treats women as things that need fixing, as though women’s fertility were a disease.

A Genteel Rant on Party Unity

Having let this simmer on the back burner for a few weeks, I find it’s still apt, even with the election so close. Therefore, for your consideration:

Remember, I’m not a political action committee, nor do I plan to turn this blog into a mouthpiece for one. It’s election season, though, so forgive me the occasional rant. There’s a campaign phenomenon that drives me nuts: people who campaign for (insert party name here) candidates for the sole reason that they belong to (insert party name here), because “party unity” or some such thing.

I’ve been a campaign staffer on two statewide Republican campaigns, both of which hired me knowing I’m an independent. A generation ago, back when I was a registered Republican, I was involved in platform debates. There’s pressure to support the entire party slate of candidates, top to bottom. That’s true of every party. I get that.

But I don’t think it’s too much to expect for pro-lifers to be pro-life first and (insert party name here) second. When elected officials of a party with a pro-life platform are not united in supporting that plank, and when the right to life is fundamental, then it’s kind of silly to vote a straight (insert party here) ticket.

This rant is prompted by an unconfirmed report to me that a strong pro-life state representative in a large southern New Hampshire town is campaigning for one of his fellow incumbents. The fellow incumbent in question has cancelled out the pro-life rep’s votes on abortion statistics and the viability bill this year, which is to say the two reps voted on opposite sides. (They did manage to find common ground on fetal homicide last year.)

Two bills, you might say. Get a grip, lady.

Yes, only two bills. Still, we’re not talking about biomass subsidies or tax policy or whether five-year-olds should be in school all day. In the case of the viability bill, we’re talking about whether those five-year-olds had any right to protection and medical care five years and two months ago, when they were preborn but viable.

Vote for whomever you want. Just remember that the viability bill was tabled – that is, discussion was terminated- on a vote of 170-163.  That’s a small margin. How many of those 170 votes were cast by people who benefited from the campaign support of pro-lifers, and the support of a “pro-life” (insert party name here) party?

Ask questions of your candidates. They’re probably going to be standing right outside the polling place on Election Day. Abortion’s legal throughout pregnancy in New Hampshire; are you OK with that? Do you know where your nearest pro-life pregnancy care center is, and have you asked for a tour to learn about their work with women and families? For the sake of women’s safety, do you think abortion providers should have medical credentials? (In New Hampshire, anyone – with or without training – may provide abortions.) Do you think children who survive abortion should receive medical care? Do you think New Hampshire should join the forty-some-odd other states who provide the Centers for Disease Control with aggregate statistical public health data on abortion? Do you think abortion facilities ought to meet the same patient-safety standards as ambulatory surgical facilities? What do you think of efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide?

There are plenty of nice people running for office. There are plenty of people you know from the school parking lot and the neighborhood playground and the grocery store. The ballot might be filled with people you’ve known for years. Hooray for all that. But be careful. Plenty of the 170 people who voted to terminate consideration of the viability bill are nice neighbors. Being nice neighbors didn’t prevent them voting to keep abortion unregulated throughout pregnancy.

Why I’m Voting No on Question 2

As if the November 6 ballot didn’t have enough on it, a pair of proposed amendments to the New Hampshire constitution will be on there, too. One of them, Question 2, is about privacy. My opinion, for what it’s worth: I’m going to vote No.

There’s one way to get my vote on “privacy” language in the state constitution: make it abortion-neutral. Something like “nothing in this constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.”

Such neutrality is not written into Question 2, which says An individual’s right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent. 

I know the sponsors’ intentions are good. They mean for the amendment to address “informational” privacy. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s been too much nonsense in other states from courts that have determined that a state constitution provides more protection for abortion rights than does Roe v. Wade, sometimes on the basis of privacy language in the constitution.

Anyone concerned with the right to life has known for more than 40 years how “privacy” has been torqued out of shape to accommodate abortion policy. Cornerstone Action (for which I’m a consultant) has contacted attorneys who reviewed the language of Question 2 and confirmed that there’s cause for concern. More from Cornerstone on Question 2 here.

I wrote about a related story over on DaTechGuy blog a few weeks ago. On the first day of its 2018-19 term, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a 2014 Tennessee ballot measure that put abortion-neutral language into the Tennessee constitution. Why was the ballot measure needed? Because a Tennessee court found in 2000 that the state constitution somehow provided a right to abortion broader than Roe.

It took 14 years for Tennessee voters to rectify the court’s error.

I have had earnest discussions about Question 2 with New Hampshire legislators and attorneys. Some see no need for concern. They can’t imagine any New Hampshire judge reading something into a constitutional amendment that sponsors didn’t intend. Others disagree.

Remember, judges in New Hampshire are nominated by a governor who calls himself pro-choice.

That’s my opinion. Yours may vary.  See you at the polls.

Support In Unexpected Places

I ask my readers’ indulgence as I shamelessly swipe something from the latest update out of 40 Days for Life in Greenland, New Hampshire.

…I also got an update about the women from the Correctional Center who pray for our Greenland 40 Days for Life Efforts. The Godmother to one of the women forwarded  my 40DFL email in which I mentioned the women and their prayer support of our local 40 DFL efforts. The women were very encouraged by the connection they have to something outside their walls-the 40 Days for Life Greenland vigil!

Wow.

No one is beyond prayer, and no one is beyond joining in prayer.

Of course, the fellowship from the women in the correctional center means that someone talked to at least one of them about 40 Days for Life and its peaceful witness against abortion, and that person talked to others, and so on. It started with one person.

Might you be such a person? Are there people in your life who don’t yet know about 40 Days for Life? You never know whose heart may be ready to respond.

There’s still time to join in the fall campaign, which runs through Sunday, November 4. Learn more at 40daysforlife.com, and click on the green button that says “find a campaign” to find the one nearest you.

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40 Days for Life team, Greenland New Hampshire, February 2016. Photo by Don Mudge.