NH stats study committee recommends “future legislation”

A legislative committee has agreed that New Hampshire needs a law requiring collection of abortion statistics. Now comes the fun part: passing one.

The interim study committee examining House Bill 1502 from the 2014 New Hampshire House session issued its brief report on November 14. Representative Laurie Harding (D-Lebanon) wrote on behalf of her colleagues on the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee:

The committee voted in favor of future legislation that is focused on meaningful, confidential collection of abortion statistics only for the purpose of public health analysis and intervention. The data would be summarized and made public in an aggregated form. The committee supported the motion to recommend future legislation only if the data collection is guaranteed to protect the anonymity of the provider and patient and the appropriate resources are available. (Vote: 16-1)

Interim study reports are non-binding but influential on future legislative action. The next time an abortion statistics bill comes up, this recommendation will be used somewhere along the line as a point of reference, particularly since many of the people on the study committee were re-elected a couple of weeks ago.

As it happens, Rep. Kathy Souza (R-Manchester) has filed her intent to introduce a statistics bill in the session beginning in January. Souza is strongly pro-life. You can bet she’s going to do her best to keep this needed legislation from going off the rails.

Off the rails? Yes, it could happen.

I attended several of the study sessions on HB 1502. The consensus of the committee, dominated by abortion defenders, was that statistics were a good idea to the extent that they might help identify populations currently underserved by contraception providers. (No wonder PPNNE stopped objecting to the bill. From their standpoint, a stats law would be market research at the state’s expense.) One needn’t track post-abortion morbidity and mortality to get at that information. Another point of consensus was explicitly written into the interim study report: abortion providers should remain anonymous. So much for women’s health.

It’s true that any statistics law will be a step in the right direction. New Hampshire public health authorities have no official idea how many abortion providers work in New Hampshire, or how many women and girls get abortions, or how many of those abortions are late-term surgical or early-term chemical. Any effort to fill in those gaps will be a public health boon. Let’s take it further and pass a law that tracks how women fare after abortions, at least to the extent that a provider who consistently had awful outcomes could be identified and stopped.

The text of Souza’s bill is at least a month away from being ready for release. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s received by the colleagues who have just said there oughta be a law.


Good news: a step towards a NH abortion stats law

A New Hampshire House committee voted today to recommend that a future session of the legislature take up an abortion statistics bill. This year’s House Bill 1502, which sought to establish the state’s first reporting requirements for abortion, was voted into interim study last March. The study committee met for several work sessions over the past few months, leading up to today’s vote.

I had my doubts that the committee would get this far, especially when the last try for a statistics bill (HB 1680 in 2012) went nowhere. Today, we saw a small step in the right direction. Perhaps the next step will be a fresh bill in 2015.

Earlier posts on HB 1502: Abortion statistics bill: it’s about time, New Hampshire; Putting down a marker for women’s health; NH statistics bill study begins

NH statistics bill study begins

True to the word of several legislators who spoke up earlier this year – and I have to admit I doubted them – the abortion statistics bill, HB 1502, is actually getting interim study and not the shredder. A subcommittee of the House’s Health, Human Services & Elderly Affairs committee convened yesterday for a 45-minute work session, with another one scheduled for June 10. The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Kathy Souza (R-Manchester), was there to listen and to take questions as they came up.

Collecting statistics is a good thing, especially starting from zero information. The tone of yesterday’s session, though, made it clear that interim study is going in a direction somewhat far afield from what this supporter of HB 1502 expected.

What would statistics be for?  Not what you might think

The first person invited to speak by subcommittee chair Rep. Laurie Harding (D-Lebanon) was Kathryn Frey of the state’s division of public health services. Frey indicated how her department sees abortion statistics: “This is all about promoting planned, healthy pregnancies.”

Oh. Women’s health? Not so much.

Back to “planned, healthy pregnancies”: if statistics were to show a high rate of unplanned pregnancy, that would show the state and its contractors where to push contraception. Much of that would probably come at taxpayer expense via Title X. No surprise that the session was attended by a representative of New Hampshire’s #1 Title X contractor, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Complication rates: “that’s not a goal here”

There was discussion on the privacy of data, with all parties to yesterday’s discussion agreeing that patient confidentiality must be protected. Rep. (and Dr.) Thomas Sherman (D-Rye) mentioned that he doesn’t want providers identified, either.

Does that mean that the state wouldn’t be able to figure out who’s having untoward complication rates among her or his abortion patients? Sure sounds that way.

Dr. Sherman added, “To start reporting complication rates [for abortion] in the state of New Hampshire, is to take it beyond any other procedure, and single it out. On the other hand, there is a clear public health interest – and this is what I was trying to get at with the original data question – is there a place where this is happening more, are there public health interventions to decrease the rate of abortion statewide? But I for one would strongly oppose taking a procedure, one that is legal here, and singling it out for extra scrutiny when the knowledge is already there. What is the national rate of complications associated with abortions? We do know that.”

One listener, a woman who traveled from Gilford to listen to the subcommittee, asked aloud where that information could be found. I myself wondered about Dr. Sherman’s reference. Is he talking about the data that the CDC admits has “limitations” because of the incomplete and voluntary national reporting? Or maybe data from the Guttmacher Institute, a former arm of Planned Parenthood?

Rep. Harding intervened at that point. “The goal of this conversation is to figure out how we can collect the data on abortion so that we can provide some better public health interventions. I think that some of the issues [about] any kind of side effects or any kind of mishaps related to abortion is – as Rep. Sherman said – usually dealt with by the individual board of licensing for a physician or practitioner. But the goal of this conversation’s got to be data collection for public health.”

Rep. Souza had some news for the subcommittee at that point. She thumbed through a thick file of abortion reports from other states.  “I happen to have in front of me several other states- it’s Oregon, Minnesota, Oregon, some others – that actually do ask for that [post-abortion complications]. There may be familiarity with this from other states.” She pointed out the template the CDC recommends to states for abortion reporting, with a place to note complications.

Rep. Harding was not about to go there. “And the focus of the CDC is of course on public health. So, you know, I’m pleased that we’re having this conversation. I think we really need to focus on where we all agree, and moving forward on some of this.”

Aggregate data vs. individual records: PP’s concerned

There was much talk about keeping individual records in state hands, protected by confidentiality laws, if an abortion statistics law were to be in place. Stephen Wurtz of the state’s vital records office noted “We’re held to a higher standard than HIPAA,” the federal medical-record privacy law. The state could then take those individual reports from abortion providers, with no personally-identifiable patient information, and create an aggregate statistical report.

PPNNE’s representative, Jennifer Frizzell, demurred. She suggested that PP could aggregate its own records and then submit information to the state.

Is that how the state’s cancer registry works, I wonder? Is that how any hospital reports things to the state? I honestly don’t know. Sounds a little odd to me.

Early in the process

Rep. Harding, whose manner is always gracious, took the time at the beginning of the session to explain the interim-study procedure to the citizens in the room who weren’t lobbyists or legislators: HB 1502 will actually “disappear” in favor of a new bill, drafted with the subcommittee’s report at hand, if anyone chooses to introduce such legislation in 2015. The subcommittee is gathering information from interested parties, and will formulate recommendations for future action on that basis.

In other words, nothing’s final yet. Good to know.

Earlier posts on HB 1502 and abortion statistics: NH Reps meet resistance to stats bill, Putting down a marker for women’s health, How to lie with statistics





Learning to count: stats bill “interim study” work session next week, open to the public

Rep. Kathleen Souza, chief sponsor of HB 1502 (photo courtesy nhcornerstone.org, http://bit.ly/1oFtmiM)
Rep. Kathleen Souza, chief sponsor of HB 1502 (photo courtesy nhcornerstone.org, http://bit.ly/1oFtmiM)

New Hampshire’s House Bill 1502, calling for collection of abortion statistics, will finally get some follow-up on June 3. Last March, the House voted to send the bill to interim study. Three members of the Health, Human Services & Elderly Affairs committee said they were committed to following through. The public is welcome to attend the committee’s work session on the bill Tuesday, June 3, 3:15 p.m. in room 205 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord.

I plan to be there. I think an audience is in order. The more scrutiny this process gets, the better.

At work sessions, there can be give-and-take. People with specialized knowledge in a particular area might be invited to provide information to the committee. Who will be the specialists on call for abortion statistics? The same people who have lobbied for years to kill such bills? We’ll see.

What I wrote in March still holds.

If you cared about women’s health, why wouldn’t you want to know how abortion affects it? Why won’t the Granite State collect and report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control, as nearly every other state does?

In New Hampshire, the absence of reporting requirements screams “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Let’s not talk about how many women and adolescents choose abortion. We don’t want the public to know if anyone has post-abortive complications or if a particular provider is a Gosnell-in-waiting. No need to know if late-term abortions are happening.

It’s time for New Hampshire legislators and public health officials to shrug off old attitudes. It’s time to stop relying on voluntary reporting by abortion providers, who are happy to provide data to the private Alan Guttmacher Institute while fighting to block state reporting requirements.

On a New Hampshire Public Radio call-in show this morning, an abortion provider from Bedford phoned in to say, “The statistics are known. Abortion is safe. I’m sort of upset about these continued attacks on women’s rights.”

No, doctor. The statistics are not known. They’re guessed at. There is no reporting requirement. And the fact that a doctor can call this an attack on women’s rights underscores how thoroughly the abortion industry has co-opted what used to be an unquestionably honorable profession.

The states that report statistics to the CDC don’t all collect the same information. Some states track the number of abortions, period. Others seek more detail. Some New Hampshire abortion providers expressed concern at the hearing on HB 1502 that statistical collection might not preserve anonymity for women and for providers. To them, I say look to other states and see how they get the job done.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England covers Vermont and Maine as well as New Hampshire. At the hearing on HB 1502, one committee member asked the PPNNE lobbyist if statistics were collected in the other two states. She said yes – and went on to object to HB 1502 anyway.

“Interim study” can mean “file and forget.” This time, a legislator speaking for a committee has said “the committee is committed to collect any meaningful health data in an aggregated form.”

The marker is down. Let’s see what happens.

HB 1502 is a bipartisan bill with eight sponsors: Reps. Souza (R-Manchester), Notter (R-Merrimack), Peterson (R-Merrimack), LeBrun (R-Nashua), Kappler (R-Raymond), Baldasaro (R-Londonderry), Hopper (R-Weare), and Berube (D-Somersworth).

NH House says no to licensing, maybe to stats, & “let’s change the subject” to Griffin’s Law

Reps Hall (800x600) (640x480)This week’s two-day floor session in the New Hampshire House yielded votes on three life-issue bills. Results: mixed. For a blow-by-blow account of the floor debates, refer to the blog’s Twitter feed @leaven4theloaf for March 19-20.

HB 1501, licensing & inspection of abortion facilities

The New Hampshire House voted to reject a bill that would have imposed publicly-accountable state oversight on abortion facilities. The same House voted a day earlier to keep in place a law forbidding restaurants from serving sugar in open bowls. Only packets will do. It’s a matter of public health and safety.

Preventing another Gosnell: nope.
Protecting women from sugar bowls: yup.

The vote to kill the bill was 211-86. Rep. Thomas Sherman, who is a physician and who spoke for the committee that unanimously recommended killing the bill, seemed pained that anyone would suggest that people who do abortions are unlicensed. Other representatives pointed out that the bill addresses requirements for facilities, not just for abortion providers. Rep. Warren Groen went a step further and asked Rep. Sherman how he knew that everyone doing abortions in New Hampshire is licensed, since New Hampshire does not monitor abortions beyond accepting voluntary reports from providers. Rep. Sherman can’t know, of course, under current law.

Text of HB 1501

Roll call on HB 1501 (note that the motion was “inexpedient to legislate,” so a “yea” vote was to kill the bill)

And just for good measure, here’s the link to the sugar-bowl vote, which was actually a vote to repeal sugar packet requirements. The motion was Inexpedient to Legislate, so “yea” meant kill the bill.

HB 1502, collection of abortion statistics

Is “interim study” a way to kill a bill, or is it a way to learn more? It all depends on the committee that handles the bill. If the members of the House Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee are to be believed, today’s vote by the House to refer HB 1502 to interim study just might be a step in the right direction.

The committee hearing and subsequent discussion on collecting abortion statistics yielded a somewhat surprising point of agreement among conflicting parties: if there’s a way to collect and publish aggregate or summarized data, New Hampshire might be ready to look at abortion statistics. The committee ultimately voted unanimously for interim study, noting that members were committed to pursuing the matter (see “Putting down a marker for women’s health“). Today in the floor debate, committee chair Rep. James MacKay and vice-chair Rep. Laurie Harding reiterated that.

So over the objections of the pro-life sponsors of the original bill who wanted a decisive move to pass the it, the House voted 188-80 for interim study. This will be something to watch over the next few months.

Text of HB 1502

Roll call on HB 1502 (“yea” was a vote in favor of Interim Study)

HB 1503, Griffin’s Law, fetal homicide

The House accepted the Criminal Justice committee’s recommendation to gut Rep. Leon Rideout’s HB 1503 (see “When chivalry isn’t enough“).  It is now a bill calling for enhanced penalties when there is a conviction for a felony against a pregnant woman. As amended, it is not a fetal homicide bill and it does not address the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s concerns from the Lamy case.

Opponents of fetal homicide legislation used the same excuse successfully employed by abortion advocates in 2012: that the legislation would somehow interfere with treatments for infertility. Rep. Lucy Weber referred to a letter sent to all of the state legislators by medical professionals from Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics, warning of this effect. Weber was unable to respond when asked why infertility treatments are still perfectly legal in the thirty-eight states that have fetal homicide legislation.

I was seated near the extended family of Griffin Donald Kenison today. Each member of the family knew perfectly well what the amended language meant for the bill. Their response? They’ll be back when the Senate takes up the bill. The family isn’t done with this. (I’ll have a separate post about this later.)

This is a link to the bill’s general information page, on which you’ll find links to the text and to the roll calls. There were three roll call votes: first, to accept the committee amendment (passed 176-116); second, an amendment by Rep. Rideout attempting to address the concern’s of the bill’s opponents (failed, 114-170), and finally to pass the bill as amended (243-42).

A vote on HB 1504, Rep. J.R. Hoell’s “All People Created Equal Act,” was put off until next week.