A New Hampshire House committee has voted 12-1 to send an abortion statistics bill to the full House with an “ought to pass” recommendation. A subcommittee of the Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee has worked on the bill at several public hearings since June. On a 4-0 vote, the subcommittee led by Rep. Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield) recommended the amended version of the bill that was adopted by the full HHSEA committee today. I expect that the full House will take up the bill next January.
As I’ve noted since HB 629 was introduced earlier this year, New Hampshire is one of the very few states that do not report any abortion statistics to the federal Centers for Disease Control. (See also an analysis of abortion-stat reporting, from the Charlotte Lozier Institute.)
I’ve watched this bill and attended nearly every hearing and work session, and it was good to hear the roll call this afternoon. Chief sponsor Rep. Kathy Souza (R-Manchester) and co-sponsor Rep. Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack) were present for the vote as well.
Rep. Susan Ticehurst (D-Tamworth) gently dissented from the ought-to-pass motion.Ticehurst commended the subcommittee for its work on what she called a “difficult topic,” but said she could not see a public health concern that was addressed by the bill. “We know an induced termination of pregnancy is less risky than carrying a pregnancy to term,” she claimed, without supporting the assertion. She acknowledged that HB 629 was an improvement on earlier efforts to pass a stats law, but she expressed concern that any stats bill would help “insert” other people into a woman’s pregnancy decision. Rep. Helen Deloge (D-Concord) attempted to allay Ticehurst’s concerns. “The purpose of the bill is to gather information. It is a nonjudgmental piece of paper.”
Rep. Ticehurst declined the opportunity to write a minority report on the bill, and she agreed with her fellow committee members to place the bill on the House’s consent calendar for noncontroversial bills. Floor action will probably come in January. Watch this blog and its Facebook page for updates.
(Voting Ought to Pass on HB 629 as amended: Republican Reps. Frank Kotowski, Don LeBrun, Bill Nelson, Joseph Guthrie, Joanne Ward; Democratic Reps. James MacKay, Barbara French, Helen Deloge, Thomas Sherman, Lucy Weber, Pamela Gordon, Kendall Snow.)
Will New Hampshire finally start collecting abortion statistics? A recommendation one way or the other should emerge soon from a legislative committee – perhaps I should say another legislative committee, since this is not the first time a stats bill has been under consideration. Rep. Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester) and ten co-sponsors are patiently promoting this year’s version.
A House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs subcommittee will have its final public work session on HB 629 on Wednesday, October 21, at 11 a.m. in room 205 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord. The bill will be voted on by the full committee on Thursday afternoon, November 5. (Watch Leaven for the Loaf’s Facebook page for updates on time and location.) Whatever the committee recommends is what the full House will vote on, probably in January 2016.
It’s not dead yet: House Bill 629, a proposal to authorize New Hampshire officials to collect abortion statistics, was reviewed at a legislative work session on September 8. It was introduced last January, but it never made it to the House floor after the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee voted to retain the bill until 2016. A subcommittee led by Rep. Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield) is looking at the bill this summer and fall. “I’d like to see if we can move this forward,” said Nelson.
If “forward” ever comes, it will be no earlier than January 2016, when the House and Senate re-convene. If the bill is ever passed, and if Governor Hassan decides in an election year not to veto it, it would probably take a year to put into effect. Figure mid-2017 as the earliest possible time New Hampshire might collect abortion statistics, and a year and a half after that to get results from the first year’s data collection – and that’s if all goes well with HB 629 next year.
Passing a stats bill remains uphill work. There are apparently legislators who are quite content for New Hampshire to remain one of only three states not reporting any abortion information to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Other legislators will support a stats bill as long as it amounts to a guide to where in the state to promote more contraception. Any resemblance to a marketing plan for Planned Parenthood would no doubt be entirely coincidental.
Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye), a physician, told his colleagues, “A lot of what I do is driven by statistics, but the first rule of statistics is [to know] how are they going to be used. If the goal is to reduce abortions by identifying how many are occurring and if there’s an area where there’s an untoward number, fine.”
The bill’s co-sponsors take a broader view. Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) told the subcommittee, “We have no idea what’s going on in our state [regarding abortion]. We have only anecdotal information. That’s why this bill is here. It’s straightforward and will lead to good public policy.”
A fellow legislator with a history of opposing abortion regulation was skeptical. “How do you expect this knowledge to be used?” asked Rep. Helen DeLoge (D-Concord). “Abortion isn’t a communicable disease. Only me, myself and I is affected.”
Affected, indeed. Who’s doing abortions, and whose procedures are leaving women injured? How old are the mothers? How far along in pregnancy are abortions being done in our state, and how does gestational age affect the risks an abortion poses for the woman? Are abortions being performed for reasons of rape or incest, and if so, are the assailants being prosecuted for assaulting women?
Subcommittee members are looking at what data other states are collecting. There’s no nationwide standard.
One thing was clear at the work session: the subcommittee will not bring forward any bill that calls for public identification of abortion providers. There was even discussion of preventing public health officials from knowing the names of providers – a problematic proposal, as we shall see. A woman seeking abortion would thus have no way of knowing if her provider had a history of botching abortions. The subcommittee consensus was that collecting names, even if the publicly-available data were to be aggregated to protect patient and provider identities, would lead to violence against providers.
I can’t help but think that that’s a consensus to warm Kermit Gosnell’s heart. Women who were unaware of what was going on in his “clinic” kept him in business. The Keystone State abortionist, now imprisoned for murder and manslaughter, would have gotten away with killing Karnamaya Mongar and killing children who survived attempted abortion if he hadn’t been accidentally discovered by pill-mill investigators.
Patricia Tilley of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services was on hand to answer technical questions from the subcommittee: When the subject of identifying providers came up, she sounded a cautious note. Rep. Sherman made a pitch for tracking abortions by region rather than by provider or even facility. Tilley replied that such an approach would affect the validity of abortion data. “We wouldn’t know who’s reporting [statistics] and who’s not reporting. You would take away the ability for us or anyone to do QA [quality assurance] on provider data.”
That gives subcommittee members something to mull over before their next meeting.
There are other statistics in the proposed bill with which the subcommittee had no trouble: maternal age, fetal/gestational age, date of abortion, method of abortion, maternal residence by county or other geographic subdivision. Public identification of women seeking abortions would be off-limits, and statistical reports would be generated using aggregate data. The DHHS officials expressed concern about a penalty clause in the bill that could conceivably threaten DHHS workers who make innocent mistakes in data collection or processing; that clause may very well bite the dust by the time the subcommittee makes its final recommendation. All of this would make for a good start on a stats bill.
Good starts have been made before, though. And still we wait.
The legislative session ends in a few weeks, with most attention now on the state budget. Here’s the status of bills we’ve been following since January. Each bill cited below is linked to its legislative docket. Click on “RC” within any docket to get roll call results.
Buffer zone repeal
The Senate refused to pass HB 403 to repeal the anti-First-Amendment “buffer zone” law, with the 12-12 vote falling one shy of passage. The bill is tabled and will die if it’s not brought up again before the Senate adjourns at month’s end. If the legislature refuses to act, New Hampshire residents are prepared to move forward with litigation to overturn the law.
From Stephen Scaer of Nashua comes this illuminating reply he received on May 29 from Sen. Jerry Little (R-Weare) regarding Little’s disappointing vote. Little and Nancy Stiles of Hampton were the two Republicans who joined the Senate Democrats to block the bill. (This reply was sent from Little’s legislative email address and is thus public.)
Dear Mr. Scaer: Thank you for your comments regarding my vote in opposition to the proposed repeal of New Hampshire’s so-called “buffer zone” law. As I said during my speech on the Senate Floor and as I reiterated in the attached article, which ran in several area newspapers, I share your concern that the current law may violate first amendment rights of those who wish to counsel women to avoid abortion. That is why I plan to submit legislation soon to amend the New Hampshire law so that it reflects the laws of other states that have already been found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and/or other existing New Hampshire laws that also implement constitutional buffer zones.
There is a precedent for this type of response in New Hampshire. Although we have not used it for a very long time, we have a state death penalty on the books. At times the U.S. Supreme Court has found similar death penalty laws in other states unconstitutional and, when that has happened, New Hampshire has responded not by repealing its law but by amending its statute to bring the law back into compliance with the most recent standard of constitutionality as set by the court. That is the path of corrective legislation I intend to follow.
Again, thank you for your comments. Let’s stay in touch. Sincerely, Jerry Little
It’s fair to say that at least one senator is prepared to keep unconstitutional language on the books until there’s a replacement ready to go. Backers of the buffer backpedaled on their handiwork this year and recommended just such a course of action. In related news, the Reddy v. Foster case is still pending, and taxpayers remain on the hook for the costs of litigation. The buffer zone remains unenforced under the terms of a restraining order issued last year by a federal judge.
The Senate version, SB 40, has been sent to a conference committee in an attempt to reconcile differences between House and Senate preferences. A report and vote are due by month’s end. The conferees are Representatives Leon Rideout (R-Lancaster), John Burt (R-Goffstown), John Tholl (R-Whitefield), and David Welch (R-Kingston), and Senators Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), and Bette Lasky (D-Nashua). The bill that originated in the House, HB 560, has been re-referred to committee for action in early 2016.
Governor Maggie Hassan vetoed HB 151, which sought to set up a legislators-only study committee on end-of-life issues. To her credit, she recognized the danger of any “study” excluding the voices of disability rights groups and health care providers. The House passed the bill in March on a 189-161 vote. That’s short of the two-thirds that would be required to override the veto.
The House rejected conscience protections for health care professionals, 237-88 (HB 670), killed an effort to keep public funds away from the abortion industry, 216-142 (HB 677), and tabled a ban on post-viability abortions on a voice vote (HB 595).
The House inexplicably shied away from passing a bipartisan abortion statistics bill, after a year of study that included participation from self-identified pro-life and pro-choice advocates. HB 629 has been retained in committee for now.
The Senate wisely tabled SB 42, a bill I called a Hobby Lobby tantrum. Supporters couldn’t get the 13th vote they needed to move the bill forward.
New Hampshire’s Sister Mary Rose Reddy of was in Concord this week to speak at a gathering of Catholics wanting to know more about effective legislative advocacy. She offered a statistic to put the deaths from legal abortion into perspective: the number of American abortions since the Roe v. Wade decision forty-two years ago is equal to the population of twenty-six U.S. states.
She assumes 57,500,000 abortions since 1973. (Without accurate state-by-state tracking of abortions, that can only be an estimate; even the Centers for Disease Control can’t pin down the number.) She then adds up the population of 26 states according to the 2010 census, getting a total of 54,913,898.
Quibble over the number of abortions if you’re so inclined; the scale of the carnage is still hard to comprehend.
(The states tallied: AK, AR, CT, DE, HI, IA, ID, KS, KY, LA, ME, MS, MT, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OK, OR, RI, SD, UT, VT, WV, WY.)