State House 2020 Preview

New Hampshire legislators have filed legislative service requests for 2020, indicating the kinds of bills we’re likely to see when House and Senate convene in January. To date, 795 LSRs are on record, and more may be on the way.

Among the proposals:

  • Born-alive legislation, to ensure that children who survive attempted abortion are given appropriate medical support.
  • “Prohibiting abortion in certain cases”: LSRs can be very vague, sometimes intentionally so, with clarity and precise language coming only when the bill based on the LSR is finally released. The sponsors on this one look encouraging in any case.
  • A heartbeat bill. Iowa passed a heartbeat bill in 2018 that was struck down as unconstitutional earlier this year. Whether NH’s proposal is identical remains to be seen.

Then there’s LSR 2600, which should be setting off alarms:

“[R]elating to reproductive medical decisions. Providing that the state shall not infringe or unduly inconvenience the right of reproductive medical decisions.”

That’s not a proposed bill. It’s a proposed amendment to the New Hampshire Constitution. Sponsors thus far: Reps. Timothy Smith, Timothy Harrigan, Catherine Sofikitis, Sherry Frost, Chuck Grassie, Heidi Hamer, and Arthur Ellison.

I’ve been concerned that the privacy amendment recently added to the state constitution might be misinterpreted to protect the abortion industry. That’s nothing compared to this proposed amendment, which would embed abortion unambiguously into New Hampshire’s constitution in the guise of “reproductive medical decisions.”

The texts of bills should be available next month, with hearings beginning in January.

Budget compromise on abortion funding: no direct, plenty of indirect

Edited 9/28/19: Governor’s signing is still pending, awaiting the bill’s enrollment process.

As of September 25, New Hampshire has a new budget for the coming biennium. In a compromise overwhelmingly approved by legislators and soon to be signed by Governor Sununu, the budget includes language preventing the direct funding of abortion using state dollars.

Or rather, more-or-less preventing. More on that below. But for now, my hat’s off to the House and Senate minority leadership teams (GOP) who refused to cave in to the majority’s desire to open the door to direct funding.

Direct abortion funding: not this time

No direct funding: that’s a depressingly low bar to clear. I work and pray for the day when there’s no need to jump for joy over something that ought to be fundamental policy. I likewise work and pray for the day when no party thinks direct funding is a good idea.

In the no-direct-funding provision, budget negotiators added a sneaky little clause that bears watching (emphasis added):  “Unless specifically appropriated in the biennial budget, no state funds awarded by the department of health and human services to a reproductive health care facility, as defined in RSA 132:37, I, shall be used to provide abortion services.”

There should be no “unless.”

In any case, the no-direct-funding provision was welcomed by Governor Sununu, who continues to draw a line between funding abortion and funding abortion providers.

indirect abortion funding: more than ever

The political trade-off for getting the no-direct-funding language was to hand additional funds to the state’s largest abortion provider. You can see why I haven’t used the word “victory” to describe the budget compromise.

Every public dollar that goes to an abortion provider, even for non-abortion work, helps keep the abortion side of the business going.

In an earlier post, I outlined the situation with Title X federal family planning funds in the state budget. Several New Hampshire family planning contractors are also abortion providers, principally Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. When the federal government recently enacted the Protect Life Rule barring abortion providers from receiving Title X funds, PPNNE announced that it would leave the federal Title X program rather than give up doing abortions.

In the state budget compromise, there’s a huge increase in the family planning appropriation from the state general fund, compared to last biennium’s budget. That increase exists to offset PPNNE’s “loss” of federal funds under the Protect Life Rule. PPNNE and a few smaller contractors voluntarily surrendered those federal dollars in order to keep their abortion businesses going.

In other words, abortion providers will now get more state dollars precisely because they’re abortion providers. The dollars are appropriated for “family planning,” but the increase over the previous biennium isn’t going to the Title X contractors who are abortion-free. The increase is going to the abortion providers.

And that’s what political compromise looks like this week. “It’s the best we’re going to get,” I was told by a source close to the negotiations. That’s true, for now.

More on State Budget and Abortion Funding: Keep Those Messages Going

The New Hampshire House will meet later this week, September 18 and 19, with the Senate meeting on the 19th. On the agenda: votes to sustain or override each of the Governor’s 50+ vetoes. At stake is the use of state general funds, i.e. taxpayer dollars, for direct and indirect funding of abortion.

Set out below are the reasons why it’s important to contact state representatives, state senators, and Governor Sununu with the clear unambiguous message: no public funding, direct or indirect, for abortion. That means sustaining the Governor’s veto of the state budget, and fighting to keep abortion out of any subsequent negotiated budget.

Governor Sununu has said reassuring things about direct funding of abortion. That is not the case about indirect funding, in which public dollars go to abortion providers purportedly for non-abortion work. Perhaps you have heard similar messages and non-messages from your own representatives.

At the heart of the matter: the state budget

The abortion funding question arises from Governor Sununu’s veto of the proposed state budget (see this blog’s earlier report). Enough concerned citizens have reached out to the Governor over the summer about this that his office has produced a form letter about it.

Thank you for contacting my office regarding abortion in New Hampshire. As Governor it has always been incredibly important to me to hear directly from Granite Staters on matters of great importance to them.

It is important for you to know that I have always opposed taxpayer funding of abortion, and have supported common-sense measures such as parental notification and the late-term abortion ban. In the past, I also supported legislative actions such as the Fetal Homicide Bill, Women’s Health Protection Act, and the Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act.

Please let us know your thoughts and ideas on this important issue as we move forward, and please do not hesitate to contact my office should you have concerns in the future.

Sincerely,

Christopher T. Sununu, Governor

(The only bill the Governor mentions that he actually signed is fetal homicide. Parental notification was already in place when he was elected, and bills regarding the other policies he mentioned have not made it out of the legislature.)

I’ll send a thank-you to the Governor for his letter. I’ll mention that I expect an equally forthright answer on giving money to abortion providers.

Indirect funding: reinforcing an abortion-first business model

The state budget Governor Sununu vetoed included a dramatic increase in funding for family planning. Has there been some kind of spike in the rate of unexpected pregnancy in New Hampshire? Nope. The increase is about abortion.

The proposed increase is to compensate family planning providers who are also abortion providers and who are losing federal funds by refusing to stop doing abortion work.

Title X (Ten) is a federal family planning program that grants money to states for family planning work, allowing the states to choose the contractors to actually carry out the family planning programs. Title X funds have never been allowed for direct abortion. Beginning last month, under a new federal provision called the Protect Life Rule, no Title X funds may go to abortion providers. The total amount of Title X money is not reduced by the Protect Life Rule. That money is available to contractors who don’t do abortions.

As explained by Cornerstone Action (a nonprofit for which I’m communications consultant), “This recognizes the fact that there is no practical difference between funding abortion and funding abortion providers. Every public dollar that goes to an abortion provider for non-abortion work helps to subsidize the abortion side of the business, by means of overhead such as facilities, equipment, utilities, and staffing.”

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England announced that it would drop out of New Hampshire’s Title X program rather than stop doing abortions. The other two freestanding abortion facilities followed suit, and even a few public health agencies that do not provide abortions joined in, out of a misplaced solidarity with abortion providers.

So much for patients relying on Title X programs. They are elbowed aside as their providers carry abortion work to the head of the priority list.

Cornerstone’s explanation of the Protect Life Rule bears reading in full. Here’s another excerpt:

The Protect Life Rule does not reduce the amount of family planning money coming from the federal government. At the same time, it respects the conscience rights of everyone who recognizes that abortion is not health care and that each abortion ends a human life. 

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have had it both ways in the past, providing abortion and federally-subsidized family planning under the same roof. They oppose the Protect Life Rule. Their message to you is, “Shut up and pay. We’ve got a business to run.”

…PPNNE calls the Protect Life Rule a “gag rule,” saying it inhibits communication between patients and providers. In fact, all the new rule inhibits is the ability of abortion providers to use public money, including indirectly, to perform, refer or promote abortion. 

Messages now

I’m going to email the Governor, thank him for his stand on direct funding, and urge him to be just as firm on indirect funding.

I’m going to email or call my senator and representatives, asking them to uphold the Governor’s veto of the state budget. I’ll ask them to oppose any direct or indirect funding of abortion.

Some of them might come back at me and tell me this is about health care. No, it isn’t. It’s about abortion, and abortion is not health care. Any provider who says it can’t provide family planning services because of a loss of Title X funds needs to be reminded that it lost those funds because it put abortion first in its business model.

 

The state budget – and what comes after

You need to get out on those sidewalks outside where abortions are happening. Abortions aren’t going on in the halls of Congress. Abby Johnson once said this to a room full of New Hampshire activists. Another time, in a very brief exchange with me, she was impatient when I mentioned the political work to which I’m drawn. “Politics isn’t going to end this,” she said, “this” meaning abortion and all its detritus.

And yet I stay involved in politics. I know what happens when we concede the arena to politicians unwilling to accept or defend the right to life. More than once, I’ve heard “how did we get here?” from stunned neighbors who have just realized how abortion-friendly is our state’s political culture.

One vote at a time, that’s how. Course correction will come the same way.

So what does this have to do with the state budget? First, the last budget proposal was not encouraging as far as the right to life and conscience rights are concerned. Second, I need to remember that passage of an abortion-friendly state budget will need to be met with something more than hand-wringing.

Year in and year out, the budget is dominated by health and human services spending. Yet without a systemic commitment to the right to life – not something assigned as a privilege, but recognized as a right – then all the spending is just so much vote-buying, swaying with the vagaries of political fashion.

I see much online cheering for the final implementation of the federal rule barring abortion providers from getting Title X family planning funds. At the risk of being the skunk at the garden party, I’ll remind you that the proposed state budget passed by the New Hampshire House and Senate includes a dramatic increase in family planning money from state general funds, to offset any loss of federal funds to abortion providers who are also Title X contractors.

And then there’s the line in the House/Senate budget that repeals the previous prohibition on the use of state general funds for abortion.

Yes, Governor Sununu vetoed that budget. He never cited the abortion language as a reason, although he found plenty else to complain about. Reports on recent budget negotiations include nothing about removing the abortion language.

The Governor does not have line-item veto power in New Hampshire. It’s all-or-nothing when it comes to the budget. I am sure neither the Governor nor any of his staffers will dispute me when I say that he unlikely to veto a budget over abortion funding, if negotiations resolve all his other concerns.

(Pending a resolution of the budget impasse, the state is operating on a continuing resolution that basically continues spending at the same level on the same items as the last budget, which expired on June 30. The government is not shut down.)

So here we are, in the political position New Hampshire pro-lifers know best: underfoot. This brings me back to that sharp reminder I got from Abby Johnson: politics isn’t going to end the carnage – not by itself, anyway. I’m not suggesting taxpayer funding for abortion and abortion providers is unimportant. I am saying that whatever the state budget eventually looks like, good or bad, the most important pro-life work is going to go on without regard to any negotiations at the State House.

After the state budget is signed, pregnancy care centers are still going to be going about their business. They need volunteers, board members, executive directors, medical staffers. They need diapers and wipes and car seats and office supplies. You don’t need to vote for that. You can just do it.

After the budget is signed, we’re still going to have – eventually – a loved one or a neighbor or a child’s classmate who’ll face pregnancy and won’t know where to turn. You can be a voice of hope. You don’t need to sport an “I voted” sticker to do that.

After the budget is signed, bigotry against people with disabilities will still be real and dangerous. The attitude “better dead than disabled” will need pushback over and over again. Babies diagnosed in utero with disabilities will be at risk of “termination” on those grounds alone. You can demonstrate how to affirm human dignity, particularly if you’re living with disability or an adverse diagnosis. You might want to share your story with one of your elected officials, because nothing beats a personal story to get a message across.

After the budget is signed, you might still be called to be a peaceful pro-life witness in a public place. You might be called to put your professional skill at the service of life-affirming ministries. You might be called to a routine of prayer that’s new to you.

Imagine all this going on regardless of who’s in charge at the State House or who’s rallying outside a hearing. Now open your eyes: it’s all happening.

Let’s encourage each other.

How hard is it not to fund abortion providers?

I don’t want to fund abortion providers by way of my tax dollars. Health care, yes; abortion, no; and there’s no such thing as avoiding the commingling of dollars when health care and abortion go on in the same building. Perhaps you agree.

Our state government doesn’t care, with all political parties in on the action. Abortion providers are so embedded in the state Department of Health and Human Services and in the Executive Council that the conscience rights of abortion resisters are in the toilet.

This is much on my mind this morning as I discover that the Executive Council and DHHS pulled a fast one recently. At the last Executive Council meeting, there was a contract item for renewal and supplemental funding of family planning contracts. That’s always a feed bag for abortion providers, so I clicked on the contract to check out the details. (You too can do a deep dive into any Council agenda; just click on the hyperlinked number next to any agenda item to get a look at the full contract in question.)

What I found was that numerous contractors had their contracts renewed – but the ones with abortion providers were not included. Hooray, right?

Wrong. I missed a “late item” added to the agenda after the public posting of the original.

How late was the late item? The day before the actual Council meeting. What was the late item? Adding the abortion providers back into the contract renewal. Contract extension amounts: $179,800 to the Equality Center in Concord, $222,896 to the Lovering Center in Greenland, and $548,000 to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Speculate as you please on why that item was posted “late.” The contract extension passed.

State money or federal? Makes no difference as far as which of my pockets is picked. As the contract says, “Source of Funds: 52% Federal Funds from the Office of Population Affairs; US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, and 48% General Funds.” General Funds refers to money from the New Hampshire state budget.

This week’s Executive Council meeting includes an agenda item giving even more money to abortion providers, this time for HIV intervention programs. It’s another contract renewal and extension, with the funding source listed as 17% federal and 83% “other funds.” (How’s that for transparency?) If the Council approves the contract extension, the Equality Center will get an additional $150,000 while PPNNE will get an additional $242,500.

Would anyone be denied authentic health care services if abortion providers were excluded from the contract process? Only if abortion providers refuse to change their business model, which relies on mislabeling abortion as health care.

The latest PPNNE audited financial statement I’ve seen online is dated May 24, 2018, covering the year ending December 31, 2017. Amount spent on public policy: $1,626,944. Marketing and communication: $209,744. Fundraising: $1,165,984.

That’s three million dollars for non-clinical promotional work. The state contracts are peanuts by comparison. But neither PPNNE nor any other abortion provider will let you off the hook. Neither will the commissioner of DHHS or the Executive Council. You’re funding abortion providers whether you want to or not.

As for elections having consequences, this is all happening regardless of which party has a majority or holds the corner office. I’m looking forward to seeing if the Republican governor re-appoints the DHHS commissioner when his term expires next January.

I’m also wondering whether that Republican governor will sign a state budget soon that repeals an existing prohibition on state funds being used for abortion. He vetoed the first attempt at a budget a couple of weeks ago, citing umpteen reasons but not mentioning abortion funding. Hmmm.

As for subsidizing abortion by way of giving money to abortion providers, taxpayers are going to have a hard time divesting. A key question in any public policy debate is who wants it more? Victories are going to come piecemeal. The big ones won’t come from Executive Council votes. They’ll come from making abortion providers ineligible for your money when contracts are put out to bid in the first place.