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.

February 8: a day of prayer for victims of human trafficking

I’d like to believe such things as human trafficking are imaginary or merely historical, but then I’d have to ignore too much.

A couple of years ago, I heard personally from a woman who had been trafficked sexually as a teenager. This wasn’t some runaway who had been taken in by a pimp in the big city, not that such a situation would have been any better. No, this woman, Theresa Flores, had been a 15-year-old high school student in an American midwestern suburb when she was drugged and then sexually assaulted as the attackers taped the assault. By threats of exposing the tape and later by threats of harming her unwitting family, the attackers forced Flores into two years of working for them as a slave sold into prostitution.

Impossible? I can only wish. Flores now travels far and wide to share her story and to increase awareness of how prevalent human trafficking is today in the United States. She rightly calls herself a survivor. She is doing what she can to spare other people what she went through.

Not all trafficking is sexual. Only a few miles from where I live, just across the river, two people were convicted a decade ago of depriving several migrant agricultural workers from Jamaica of their passports and the wages that had been promised to them.

There are various special observances sponsored by advocacy groups who want to bring a halt to human trafficking. One of those days is tomorrow, February 8, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita.

Bakhita was a Sudanese woman born in the middle of the nineteenth century. Kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, tortured by her “owners,” she ultimately wound up in Italy. Eventually, a court ruling freed her. She adopted the Catholic faith, and entered a convent while retaining a missionary spirit: “her mind was always on God, and her heart in Africa.”

She died on February 8,1947, and has since been recognized as a saint by the Catholic church and as patroness of Sudan and of all victims of trafficking. The anniversary of her death is an especially apt time to spend time in prayer for all people who are being bought and sold as commodities.

I wish this were something past – a sorry part of the human condition from which we have all turned in horror. It’s not. There are still people in slavery, some very close to home – still people selling other people – and still people who create the market by “buying” the services of the trafficked victims.

A couple of bills are pending in the New Hampshire legislature this year in an effort to fight this plague. One would create a civil right of action for trafficking victims, while the other seeks to do that plus strengthen existing state anti-trafficking legislation.

People aren’t property. I pray for the day when that can go without saying.

 

 

 

 

“We’re on a crusade”: the Rideout family leads the charge for Griffin’s Law

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Rep. Rideout’s family distributed ribbons at the hearing on HB 1503.

Rep. Leon Rideout was more than a colleague when he spoke yesterday to the New Hampshire House’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee. He spoke as a grandfather whose grandson Griffin died shortly after his premature birth triggered by an auto collision – and who in the eyes of the law was no victim at all. He spoke as father to Ashlyn, who was 7½ months pregnant with Griffin and was herself injured in the collision, caused by another driver ignoring a traffic signal. He spoke for his large extended family, who helped fill the public section of the hearing room.

Rideout is sponsoring HB 1503, a fetal homicide bill that he’s calling Griffin’s Law. It should be a no-brainer. Of course, the last try in 2012 should have been a no-brainer, too. The first efforts around 1990, promoted by the late Rep. Carolyn Brady (R-Manchester), should have gained traction at the time. But they didn’t. Rep. Rideout’s family wanted to make sure that everyone in the room knew why the law is necessary.

He apparently has colleagues who aren’t yet sold on the idea. Rideout took to Facebook today to call on HB 1503 supporters to reach out to Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia).

“Thank You To Everyone That Came to The Hearing and Showed Support. It was a Great showing !! We have a Battle before the Committee Execs #Griffinslaw Rep Huot is going to bring an amendment that basically guts the bill and leaves NH basically where it is today Please E mail / Call Him and tell him not to amend HB 1503 Phone: (603)524-7641
Email: david.huot@leg.state.nh.us”

Huot is reportedly attempting to accommodate the concerns of abortion advocates. He might want to read Lamy first.

Rideout made a point of reminding the committee about the Lamy case, in which the state supreme court suggested that the legislature amend the homicide statutes to address what happened in situation’s like Griffin’s. He handed a copy of the case to each committee member.

The “blue sheet,” signed by people who couldn’t attend the hearing but wanted to register an opinion on the bill, had many signatures. Many were from fellow state representatives who had to attend their own committee hearings. Almost all the names on the sheet had “support the bill” checked off.

Almost.

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Pro-Choice NH showed up to try to put the brakes on the bill. Devon Chaffee for NHCLU and Laura Thibault of NARAL each made an effort to acknowledge the grief of families like Rep. Rideout’s who lose a child and find that the criminal justice system has nothing to say to the assailants. Then came the Buts and Howevers. “This does not go far enough to safeguard a woman’s rights,” said Chaffee. “This tends to erode women’s rights. While this bill includes an exemption for abortion, if passed it will contribute to the nationwide effort to establish a framework to overturn Roe v. Wade,” added Thibault.

Shirley Kenison-Ward, Griffin's grandmother.
Shirley Kenison-Ward, Griffin’s grandmother. Photo by Rep. Leon Rideout.

The bill explicitly does not apply to ANY fetal death that occurs at the mother’s behest. This means abortion wouldn’t trigger any charge against anyone. Further, thirty-eight states already have fetal homicide laws, according to Rideout, and not one has been overturned. Clear enough? Not to NHCLU and NARAL. They simply can’t abide fetal homicide laws. Chaffee went so far as to say New Hampshire law already covers fetal homicide. The Lamy case puts the lie to that.

It’s fitting that Chaffee and Thibault found their testimony bracketed by Griffin’s grandparents. Rep. Rideout opened the hearing. Later, Shirley Kenison-Ward, “Grammy Shirley,” made sure the committee knew this was no transitory cause. “We’re on a crusade,” she said tearfully, with a relative standing next to her displaying photos to the committee. “Our family is on a mission to make sure if a person causes bodily harm or death to an unborn child due to violence or criminal behavior, there will be consequences.”

Will the bill be gutted, as Rep. Rideout fears? What language is Rep. Huot proposing? What could possibly allay the fears of abortion advocates while still allowing the criminal prosecution of people who cause a pregnant woman like Ashlyn to lose her son only weeks before she was due to give birth? It is likely to be a few days before the CJPS committee takes a vote. Rep. Leon Rideout will be watching very closely.

Related posts: House committee vote on Griffin’s Law, Senate vote on Griffin’s Law

 

NH assisted suicide bill, round 1

For hours yesterday, people spoke up against assisted suicide in New Hampshire, essentially saying “hell, no.” The count was impressive. The only decisive count will come from legislators, though, and the outcome is very much in doubt. Here’s this morning’s Facebook post by a committee member, referring not only to HB 1325 but to a second bill, HB 1226, to set up a committee to study end-of-life decisions

“NH Voters: If you are concerned with end of life decisions and you are against Assisted Suicide, please send e-mails to the House Judiciary Committee, flood our in boxes. We had two public hearings yesterday on the subject and some committee members are actually planning on voting for this to pass. NO ONE spoke in favor of these two horrific bills, but plenty of people spoke out against it. Unfortunately, some of the speakers were from out of town and most e-mails have come from out of town. Their thinking is that since no one is speaking out in NH, it must not be something people are concerned about, so let’s pass it…… The link is HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. Thank you!”

The setting for the hearing

Too much was going on at once yesterday. Two hearings, only a few yards apart in Concord’s Legislative Office Building, and I had to choose. I went with door #2. Over an hour later, first round of business done, I hurried to where the House Judiciary Committee was having its hearing on HB 1325.  I hoped I wasn’t too late.

I could barely get in the door.

There was the committee, seated around its big U-shaped table taking up two-thirds of the room, with no one aside from House staff permitted to stand along the walls. This is the standard set-up for New Hampshire House committees. In the remaining third of the room, the two rows of seats were full, with more people standing in clusters at each end of the rows. When I managed to squeeze into the room, I became the de facto doorkeeper as people entered and left.

I was so wedged in that I couldn’t reach my phone or use my tablet, so the world had to get along without my livetweeting (and at last report the world was getting along fine without it). Just as well, since I’d been using the hashtag #hb1325, which someone later pointed out to me was the same hashtag used for a bill in Colorado on a different subject. In the future I’ll use #noPASnh (with PAS standing for physician-assisted suicide).

Some of the testimony

I had earlier provided the committee clerk with the testimony I had prepared on behalf of the New Hampshire nonprofit organization for which I work. The committee members will see this, even though I didn’t testify in person. The core of the testimony is here:

Nothing is more certain to inhibit support for palliative- and supportive-care strategies than to make physician-prescribed death a treatment option. Pain management, respite care, and adaptive technology can require complex, time-consuming effort. Taking a handful of pills is cheap. The negative message to vulnerable, depressed individuals would be unmistakable.

I recognized friendly faces in the crowd, including legislators who have worked for years to resist assisted-suicide legislation. I also saw many people I didn’t know, and I could only hope they were there to protest the bill. I later heard from a committee member that they were indeed opponents – and articulate ones, too. Two of them posted their testimony online via links on PRWeb. They’re worth quoting, but I heartily recommend you go to the PRWeb link to read the statements in full.

From John Kelly, on behalf of Not Dead Yet and Massachusetts Second Thoughts:

We were the progressive voice in Massachusetts that defeated the assisted suicide ballot question.  Our opposition is based in universal principles of social justice that apply to everyone, whether disabled or not….We chose our name Second Thoughts because we find that many people, once they delve below the surface appeal of assisted suicide, have “second thoughts” and oppose it.  In Massachusetts a month before the election, 68% of Massachusetts voters supported the ballot question.  But upon closer look at the real-world threats the legislation posed, voters had serious “second thoughts.”  …

There is nothing in this or any other assisted suicide bill that can protect people who are being abused.  Every year in New Hampshire, it is estimated that there are over 26,000 reported and unreported cases of elder abuse.  No independent, disinterested witness is required when the lethal dosage is taken, which means that the stipulation that someone “must” self-administer the drug is merely a recommendation.  These bills take no notice of how self-interest can motivate family members and caregivers.  Because of the typical provision in these laws that death certificates list the cause of death as the underlying illness, investigations are foreclosed….

HB 1325 uses a definition of “terminal condition” that directly threatens the lives of me and many of my disabled friends.  Section 13 reads:“Terminal condition” means an incurable and irreversible condition, for the end stage for which there is no known treatment which will alter its course to death, and which, in the opinion of the attending physician and consulting physician competent in that disease category, will result in premature death.

The day this bill goes into effect, thousands of people will be instantly made eligible.  For example, my quadriplegia constitutes “an incurable and irreversible condition.”  It has “no known treatment,” and likely “will result in premature death.”  This bill would authorize a New Hampshire doctor, whom I saw “regularly,” to validate temporary feelings of being a burden as being worse than death.  Legalizing assisted suicide sends the wrong message to anyone who depends on caregivers, the message that feeling like a burden is not only an acceptable reason for suicide, but a justification for our health care system to provide the lethal means to end your life.  We are not better off dead.

From Stephen Mendelsohn of Second Thoughts Connecticut:

This bill, with its expansive eligibility targeting a wide range of people with long-term disabilities who are nowhere near death, morphs New Hampshire’s honored state motto, “Live Free or Die” into an ableist obscenity: “Live Nondisabled or Die.”… 

Let us remember that people in Oregon and Washington [where assisted suicide is legal] are killing themselves not because of pain, but because of fear of disability, because they view needing assistance with eating or toileting as a “loss of autonomy,” a “loss of dignity,” and a “burden” on others [according to Oregon’s 2012 report on the Death with Dignity Act]….

As Oregon’s experience shows, death is always the cheapest “treatment.”  Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup found that out when Oregon Medicaid refused to pay for chemotherapy, but offered to pay for lethal drugs so they could commit suicide under that state’s “Death With Dignity Act.”…

And what message does this legislation send toward those contemplating suicide?  We constantly hear the six-word slogan from proponents, “My Life. My Death. My Choice.”  If “my death” is “my choice,” what message are we sending to an autistic or LGBT teenager who is being mercilessly bullied?  After all, victims of bullying also experience “severe, unrelenting suffering.”  Why even have suicide prevention? … Let us reject HB 1325 and instead work to build a world where no one feels they ought to die merely because they cannot do everything for themselves and instead receive blessing from others, whether they may have days, months, or many years of life ahead.

When I arrived at the hearing, Margaret Dore was speaking, trying vainly to compress extensive testimony into just a few minutes. It’s a fact of life that even when a committee chair goes out of her way to be accommodating, as did Judiciary chair Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) yesterday, all those who testify late in a hearing bear the burden of everyone’s impatience. Dore is an elder-law attorney from Washington state, and she has come to New Hampshire before to fight other assisted suicide bills. Her experience with her own clients has thoroughly schooled her in the risks of abuse inherent in any law that makes physician-prescribed death just another medical option.

The hallway conversations – and what must be done next

Before the hearing began, I spoke with a veteran legislator from the Judiciary committee. He was not optimistic. “Lobby the Senate. Now.” I raised an eyebrow (perhaps two) and asked for his count of the votes on the committee. He declined to elaborate.

Another committee member caught up with me after the hearing and filled me in on what I had missed. She said the turnout by anti-1325 forces had been great. Then this morning, she wrote the warning with which I opened this post. As if the truth changes at the state line … but I appreciate her candor.

Yesterday, a lot of people did a good day’s work. I wish it were enough. Instead, it’s only round one. If this gets through House and Senate – and I concede nothing at this point – it may come down to a veto by Governor Maggie Hassan. Hassan has not addressed this bill directly, but she did veto a bill last year for an end-of-life study committee, introduced by an assisted-suicide supporter. At that time, she said our focus should be “on helping all of those in our society to fully live their lives with the dignity that they deserve.” That sounds promising.