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.