Putting down a marker for women’s health

I wrote this originally for Cornerstone Action, where I serve (2014) as legislative affairs director. New Hampshire’s abortion statistics bill, HB 1502, will get its floor vote this week. 

As yet another abortion-statistics bill approaches a vote in the New Hampshire House, one legislator’s words stand out. Rep. Don LeBrun (R-Nashua) wrote an explanation for his committee’s recommendation that HB 1502 be sent for interim study. Here is what he had to say, as printed in the House calendar:

“The committee is committed to collect any meaningful public health data in an aggregated form.”

That’s a marker. I’m going to keep an eye on it. I want to believe it means something.

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.” Rep. LeBrun’s sincerity is not in question. The collective will of the committee is another matter entirely.

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

NH House committee dismisses abortion-facility licensing & stats bills

The New Hampshire House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee (HHS) voted unanimously today to send an abortion statistics bill to interim study and to kill an abortion-facility licensing bill outright. The full House will vote on both bills in March.

Licensing: “I’m really insulted by this.”

Rep. Barbara French left no one in doubt about her feelings towards the licensing bill. “I’m really insulted by this. Every clinic in the state of New Hampshire is operating above and beyond.” Rep. French’s remark came just before the HHS committee voted 17-0 on an “inexpedient to legislate” motion on HB 1501. Noting for the record her credentials as a nurse for more than 50 years, she called abortion “a highly regulated medical procedure.” She recited a list of inspections to which the Feminist Health Center in Concord submits periodically, including “annual inspection by the [executive] Department of Health and Human Services.”

Before the bill’s first hearing, sponsor Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester) told me about her efforts to get information about those inspections from the Department. To my knowledge, she came up empty.

Also speaking against the bill was Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye), a physician, who made the motion to kill the bill.  In HB 1501’s original hearing, he had expressed frustration at being unable to question the numerous doctors who sent written testimony in favor of licensing. Has he tried to reach any of those doctors? I don’t know, but he has had time since the original hearing to review (in his words) “the literature on abortion, all the peer-reviewed journals I could find, [and] I spoke with providers.” His conclusion: “This is considered by the medical community to be a safe procedure. All the requirements of the bill violate standard of practice. This bill is inappropriate.”

Other members of the committee were silent until it was time to vote. Then it was one “yes” after another until all seventeen members of the committee had gone on record.

Collecting abortion statistics: file and forget

The committee voted 17-0 to send an abortion statistics bill to interim study. New Hampshire is one of the very few states that refuse to monitor abortion statistics as a matter of public health: how many women obtain abortion, their ages and the gestational age of their children, how many repeat abortions. That will continue into the foreseeable future, given the absence of any will to follow up.

Interim study, you see, is usually a black hole. Now and then, when there is a knotty problem that legislators genuinely want to explore, an interim-study vote leads to hearings – but this is not one of those times. Sometimes, interim study is a good tactic for keeping options open. I heard nothing today to make me think the option of actual study will be carried out.

There was no debate and no discussion once Rep. Don LeBrun (R-Nashua) made the interim-study motion. During the vote, when the clerk came to Rep. Susan Ticehurst (D-Tamworth), an abortion supporter, there was a pause before she said, “with grave reservations, yes.” Reservations? Like a fear that a study might actually happen? It was not a time for questions, though, and the roll call went on.

The last statistics bill was HB 1680, introduced a few years ago by Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-Salem). It passed after being amended into a simple call for a study committee. That turned out to be interim study the hard way. No study committee ever convened.

There might not even be a debate when the bills get to the House floor. Unanimous committee votes usually mean a bill goes on the consent calendar with other “non-controversial” bills.

NH reps try again for a stats bill, and they’re finding resistance


Legislative Office Building, Concord NH
Legislative Office Building, Concord NH

New Hampshire’s House Bill 1502 made its 2014 debut before a skeptical audience last week. Eight sponsors are behind this effort to collect New Hampshire abortion statistics. No names from the patients – just information about the particular termination procedure. The bill doesn’t even require that post-abortion injury or maternal death be reported, and that’s a huge concession to pro-abortion sensibilities. How hard should this be?

From what I saw and heard this at the hearing, the answer is “harder than you think.”

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee (HHSEA) allotted 45 minutes for the hearing, but chairman James MacKay (D-Concord) courteously extended it so that the dozen or so people who signed up to testify could all be heard the same day.

From my notes at the proceedings

Who’s counting now? Chief sponsor Rep. Kathy Souza (R-Manchester) delivered the first testimony. She pointed out to the committee what my readers already know, namely that pro-life witnesses stand outside the PP office in Manchester on Thursdays to count the cars going in on surgical-abortion days. Right now, that’s the only effort anyone makes to track in a public way how many abortions occur at that particular facility. She also reminded the committee of former President Clinton’s mantra “safe, legal, and rare,” pointing out that collecting statistics would give New Hampshire residents and public health officials an idea of just how rare it is.

Keep cloaking those “providers”: Keeping abortionists anonymous was as great a concern to some committee members as protecting the privacy of patients. Any collection of statistics that would tend to indicate a provider’s location would not meet with approval from a big chunk of the committee, not to mention PPNNE, the NH Civil Liberties Union, and NARAL Pro-Choice NH. No location information, plus no reporting on post-abortion maternal injury or mortality, means no statistics on providers with poor records. So much for women’s health.

Team spirit: It’s sometimes tough for representatives to testify on their own bills, since multiple hearings go on at the same time and one rep might have several bills. It’s therefore worth noting that six of the eight co-sponsors were present. One, Rep. DonLeBrun, is on the HHSEA committee. Others who came and provided testimony, besides Rep. Souza, were Lenette Peterson and Jeanine Notter (both R-Merrimack), Jane Cormier (R-Alton), and Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry).

How much is all this going to cost? Among the objections thrown up by Jennifer Frizzell of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England was the cost of the bill, estimated by the legislative budget office to be $85,814 in the first year and increasing to $94,462 in the fourth year. To put that in perspective, I see from my own records that according to PPNNE’s form 990 for tax year 2009, each of their their six highest-compensated employees earned at least $110,000 that year. PPNNE is a state contractor.

Aggregate data: The lobbyists for PPNNE, NARAL, and NHCLU all acknowledged under questioning that “aggregate” statistical data would be acceptable. I’ve already mentioned their concern for provider privacy. They also expressed concern for patient privacy, a concern shared by the sponsors of the bill. How the language that satisfies the sponsors leaves the lobbyists unsatisfied is a mystery that might be addressed in subcommittee – if the chairman chooses to name one.

And by the way, PPNNE already collects data in VT and ME. This fact came out when the PPNNE lobbyist was being questioned. The “Northern New England” in the name refers to New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine – and the latter two states already provide data to the CDC. PP could live with a stats law in NH.

Best committee questions: All the concern from PPNNE about patient privacy prompted Rep. Stephen Schmidt (R-Wolfeboro) to ask an astute question: where have instances of privacy violation occurred in New Hampshire in relation to public health statistics? “I meant in other states,” Frizzell replied.  Not to be outdone in the Astute Question department, Rep. Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield) asked Frizzell if PP’s concern for patient privacy had thus far moved the organization to lodge any complaints at the federal level about privacy concerns within the Affordable Care Act. Flustered for a moment (and that doesn’t happen often), Frizzell quickly recovered her composure and said she wasn’t aware of any such concerns.

Guest appearance: Rep. Candace Bouchard (D-Concord) was assigned by the House Speaker to sit as a committee member that morning to take the place of an absent member. Coincidentally, Bouchard heads the House “reproductive rights caucus” and managed to work her favorite epithet, “anti-choice,” into her questioning of one of the bill’s supporters. She also took up her longstanding grudge about pro-life presence outside abortion facilities, talking about a “history of violence” and how she has been told to wear a bulletproof vest when escorting women into abortion facilities. How that figures into statistical data is a mystery known only to her. She also refuses to acknowledge any difference between peaceful pro-life witnesses and the murderers who in killing abortion industry workers forfeit any claim to being pro-life.

The doctor was in: Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye) is a doctor on HHSEA, and he questioned Souza closely about not only provider anonymity but also his concern that the bill calls for a penalty for doctors who fail to report statistics. “Do you know that a criminal conviction means losing a medical license?” Souza replied that the law needed teeth if it were to be taken seriously. Sherman went on to question the cost of the bill. “These women are worth $90,000 a year,” said Souza, a point Sherman did not see fit to dispute.

Next steps

A committee vote is probably a couple of weeks off.  Amendments are likely.

As I’ve written before and as the sponsors told the committee, New Hampshire stands with California and Maryland as the only states that don’t report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control. To some people, that indicates New Hampshire is a “pro-choice” state. To me, it indicates that public health officials dropped the ball a long time ago. If it takes a legislature to order them to pick it up, I say go for it.



Abortion statistics bill: it’s about time, New Hampshire

This Thursday, January 16 at 9:15 a.m. in room 205 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord (behind the State House): public hearing on HB 1502, to require the state to collect abortion statistics.

“This bill requires the department of health and human services to keep an annual statistical report of each induced termination of pregnancy performed and submit such report to the general court. The report shall also be available to the public.”

What does New Hampshire have in common with California and Maryland? It’s a state with a policy of indifference to women’s health when it comes to abortion. Forty-seven states provide some kind of abortion data to the federal Centers for Disease Control. New Hampshire doesn’t. Eight New Hampshire legislators – seven Republican, one Democrat – are ready to change that.

A couple of years ago, there was a statistics bill (2012’s HB 1680) that through legislative legerdemain was converted into a call for a study committee. There was no follow-through. Before that bill was gutted, it was opposed by abortion advocates as being yet another attempt to interfere with women’s reproductive freedom.

Remember that fact when a candidate, party, or policy group warns you that state-level legislation is eroding Roe v. Wade

HB 1502 calls on New Hampshire’s department of health and human services to collect data as suggested (not mandated) by the CDC. Here, from Abortion Surveillance – United States 2010, is the kind of information that the state could consider submitting to the CDC if HB 1502 passes.

  • Maternal age
  • Gestational age (in weeks at time of abortion)
  • Race and ethnicity of mother
  • Method of abortion
  • Marital status
  • Number of previous abortions and live births to the mother
  • Maternal residence

HB 1502 would require DHHS to prepare an annual report to the legislature, and the information would also be available to the public. New Hampshire residents would finally have something other than an abortion provider’s “3% of our services” statement to go by. How many late-term abortions are going on in New Hampshire? How many teens are having multiple abortions? How prevalent are chemical abortions? How many women come to New Hampshire from out-of-state to get abortions? Is abortion having a disproportionate impact in minority communities? Let’s get more than a hint. Let’s find out. While we’re at it, let’s find out who comes out to the committee hearing to oppose the bill.

What we would not learn under the terms of HB 1502 is how many women endure injury, illness or death as a result of abortion. It will be enough of a struggle for now in New Hampshire to get a bill that grants the public a simple right to know how many abortions are done each year.

Thursday, 9:15: will you be there?



Reality check: what does an attack on an abortion provider look like?

An August 26 Huffington Post feature bemoans the “heavy wave of legislative attacks” on abortion providers since 2010. “Incredibly dramatic,” said the Guttmacher Institute. “This has turned into a nightmare,” said a spokeswoman for NARAL’s Arizona affiliate.

No dispute here that legislation at the state level has been a factor in the closure of over fifty abortion facilities since 2010. But “attacks”? I’d hate to see that word go the way of “choice,” almost denuded of meaning in the hands of abortion promoters.

Some attacks (real ones) on abortion providers:

  • John Salvi shot and murdered two abortion facility workers, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, in 1994. In a bizarre turn of events, his conviction for those crimes was overturned after he committed suicide in 1996; a judge ruled that his conviction could not stand since he died before his appeals were exhausted.
  • George Tiller, a physician famed for performing late-term abortions, was shot and wounded in 1993 by Shelley Shannon.  Tiller was murdered in 2009 by Scott Roeder. Shannon and Roeder were both convicted.
  • David Gunn, physician and abortion provider, was murdered by Michael Griffin in 1993. Griffin was convicted.

These are only a few grim examples of what real attacks look like. Other abortion industry workers have been victims of the violence that is just as outrageous and sickening outside the procedure room door as it is inside.

…as opposed to “attacks” (phony ones) on abortion providers:

  • Laws requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. If a provider has to change her or his business model to accommodate this one, fine with me.
  • Laws permitting parents to be notified when an underage daughter seeks an abortion. Objections to this one always amaze me. In my own state of New Hampshire, the law is for notification, not consent; it has a judicial bypass; and any provider who certifies an emergency can do the abortion without prior notification to the pregnant adolescent’s parents. All the years I attended and testified at hearings in Concord on this matter, I heard abortion providers complain that this is unnecessary intrusion on “choice” as well as an attempt to undermine Roe v. Wade. The U.S. Supreme Court, despite changes in personnel since 1973, disagrees with that claim.
  • Fetal homicide laws, allowing prosecution of a person causing the death of a woman’s preborn, wanted child. Drunk drivers and abusive boyfriends everywhere have friends in abortion advocates, who oppose such laws.
  • Laws requiring abortion facilities to be treated as ambulatory care facilities for purposes of inspection and licensing. If my daughter were hemorrhaging in the “recovery” room after an abortion, I wouldn’t be happy if the facility’s owners had decided against widening doorways to accommodate gurneys. Inspection and licensing, taken seriously, would also give some credibility to claims by abortion apologists like Nancy Pelosi that Gosnell was an outlier.
  • 24-hour waiting periods. Last time New Hampshire considered an informed consent law that included such a provision, I listened to abortion providers warn that a waiting period would be a hardship for rural women. What they didn’t say, but came through loud and clear nonetheless, was that drive-through abortions are fine: same-day pregnancy test, counseling, and abortion, followed by the long drive home. “By the time women come in, they already know what they want,” said one provider at the legislative hearing. That makes abortion sound like buying shoes. But I digress: no, a 24-hour wait is not an attack on providers.
  • Statistics collection. Demanding that every abortion provider give an accurate report of activity is a matter of public health, not a matter of picking on the provider. Every objection to this sounds to me like “but we like it here in the dark.”

    Not an attack banner.
    Not an attack banner.

Whose right is it, anyway?

All the laws I cited have something in common: they don’t ban abortion. In fact, they assume that abortion is legal and ongoing. No woman can be denied her right to abort – not even an adolescent female, who can bypass parents.True,   a few states – not my own, yet – are putting in place post-20-week bans. It’s a fact, though, that abortion advocates draw no distinction between a ban and a regulation. This overlooks one small point: Roe v. Wade invented a women’s constitutional right to abort, but it did not invent a right for abortionists to operate without oversight.

“TRAP laws,” say the abortion promoters: Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers. “Gynoticians” (neologism of the year, hands down), says PP, mocking elected representatives who put the interests of women and children ahead of big business (and make no mistake, abortion is big business). Catchy. Terms like those make for snappy web graphics and fundraising emails. What they don’t do is tell the truth. Reporting on post-abortion complications is a TRAP? Passing a law to promote parental involvement in minors’ health decisions makes one a “gynotician”?

Enough with the trendy terms. Forcing a change in a business model is not an “attack.” Accounting for complications is not an “attack.” Save the word for when it matters. Real attacks come when abortion providers are murdered, women undergo abortion without fully informed consent, and children are scraped to bits.

I can’t leave the HuffPost article without mentioning the accompanying infographic (seen in the article here). Check out the fine print: “Source: Huffington Post survey of state health departments, abortion providers, and local abortion-focused advocacy groups.” Does that include the state health departments that depend on voluntary reporting from abortion providers to derive abortion stats for the state?  Can’t tell. The numbers are therefore fuzzy. But trying to clarify them would probably be construed as an attack.