NHRTL petitions US Supreme Court for documents re PPNNE grant

New Hampshire Right to Life today petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing to order the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide documents regarding a 2011 grant to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. NHRTL originally filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in October 2011 for documents about the sole-source non-competitive grant.

Attorneys for NHRTL say in today’s filing,

“The purpose of NHRTL’s requests was to expose what it considered an improper and potentially unlawful funding decision by HHS….[whose] decision to award Planned Parenthood a direct non-competitive grant was made hastily, in secret, and contrary to the usual protocols for awarding grants. Documents released by HHS showed that HHS was paying Planned Parenthood for birth control pills at nearly four times what Wal-Mart charged customers for the same pills. In addition, NHRTL suspected, as had the New Hampshire Executive Council, that Planned Parenthood was unlawfully using federal funds to subsidize abortion services, and that HHS knew that these federal funds were being used to subsidize abortions.”

The HHS grant in question was made shortly after the New Hampshire Executive Council rejected a Title X (ten) family planning contract with PPNNE in June 2011. Title X funds, while federal in origin, are administered by the states. Three months after the Executive Council vote, HHS in a surprise move made federal funds available to PPNNE, independent of any Executive Council oversight. NHRTL filed its FOIA request in October 2011 an effort to make public the process by which these funds were granted. A federal lawsuit followed after HHS did not produce documents in a timely fashion.

Some but not all of the requested documents relating to the grant have since been produced, some in redacted form. HHS has claimed the redactions and omissions are allowed under two exemptions within the FOIA law. That claim has been upheld in lower courts. NHRTL’s petition to the Supreme Court asserts in part that the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in this case creates a conflict with rulings on FOIA cases in three other Circuits.

One point of contention between the parties is the demand for public production of the PPNNE Medical Manual, outlining policies and procedures for operating a Title X federally-funded planning facility. According to today’s filing, such information is normally required by HHS as a condition for family planning grant funding. The First Circuit ruled that production of the manual and certain other documents would give an unfair advantage to a “potential future competitor” to PPNNE in future grant competitions. NHRTL notes in its petition that three other Circuits have ruled that FOIA exemptions refer to actual rather than potential competition.

NHRTL is also challenging an HHS decision to withhold some documents on the grounds that they refer to a deliberative pre-decision process, another FOIA exemption.

NHRTL is represented in New Hampshire Right to Life v. United States Department of Health and Human Services by Manchester attorney Michael Tierney and attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.

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Leaven for the Loaf will continue to cover this case as it develops.

Related posts (2013): PPNNE to get “retroactive” $$ from state? and Retroactivity and how not to de-fund an abortion provider

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abortion industry vs. public’s right to know

From the front page of today’s New Hampshire Union Leader: Right to Life Sues Over NH Clinic Records.

Among the documents NHRTL is seeking are those relating to the state’s defense of the buffer zone law, signed by Governor Hassan after the U.S. Supreme Court found a similar Massachusetts law unconstitutional. NHRTL is also looking for information about PP’s protocols for dispensing drugs without a pharmacist, under a special exception to state law. The full article by Mark Hayward is here.

In Manchester, peaceful witness continues

A day after a federal judge put a temporary hold on enforcement of the New Hampshire buffer zone law, the weekly pro-life witness outside Planned Parenthood on Pennacook Street in Manchester went on as usual. I stopped by to see how things were going. Cathy Kelley, who has said that Thursdays are surgical-abortion days at this PP office, reported a light-traffic day; eleven cars had entered the patients’ parking lot as of midday. The patient lot was empty when I was there, in contrast to the eleven cars crammed into the tiny parking lot for employees.

The photo on the right shows how close PP is to the residential buildings on Pennacook Street. I’ve been on that street in the winter, complete with snowbanks and ice-covered sidewalks and cars parked on both sides. It would be hard to come up with a worse location for a “buffered” building.

PPNNE is having “conversations” about no-protest zones outside NH facilities

PPNNE's Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.
PPNNE’s Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.

Update: New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan signed a statewide buffer-zone bill into law on June 10, 2014.

Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, acknowledged in a radio interview this morning that PPNNE is looking into what she calls a “patient safety zone” or “buffer” outside PPNNE’s New Hampshire facilities. She referred specifically to the Manchester office, which she said had seen “increasing amounts of activity, targeting and intimidating clients.” She added, “we’re just having preliminary conversations” about potential city ordinances and state legislation.

Frizzell was a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange, hosted by Laura Knoy. Ashley Pratte, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, joined Frizzell and Knoy to discuss “The Shifting Landscape of Abortion Law.” (Program audio here.)

“There was a relatively significant case recently out of Massachusetts where a 35-foot buffer zone to protect patients entering and exiting clinics was upheld through [an] appellate court,” said Frizzell, adding that the court found “appropriate balance of free speech rights of protesters and the need for patients to have safe access, uninterrupted, to get into and out of health care facilities.” PPNNE’s Burlington, Vermont facility has a 35-foot buffer zone as well. Such zones normally prohibit standing, marching, praying, or protesting within a specified distance of an abortion facility.

Manchester’s Planned Parenthood office on Pennacook Street was recently the site of a 40 Days for Life prayer vigil, with up to 150 people at a time praying outside the facility during the campaign that ended on Palm Sunday. Smaller groups of people continue to pray outside the building, placing particular emphasis on Thursdays, when surgical abortions are reportedly performed at the facility (see prayforlifecenter.org).

Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) sponsored an informed consent bill in the New Hampshire House this year. I asked her this afternoon to comment on Frizzell’s remarks, and she quickly asked, “Violation of free speech?” I took her question to a New Hampshire attorney with experience in First Amendment cases. His response was unequivocal: “This [would be] an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech and assembly.” He noted that New Hampshire has “lots of great cases” relative to protesters’ First Amendment rights, stemming from the arrests of members of the Clamshell Alliance who protested the construction of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in the 1970s and 1980s.

Catherine Kelley, who prays outside PP’s Manchester office and is one of the organizers of the Pray for Life Center, was equally blunt this afternoon. “We are absolutely opposed to any type of buffer or bubble zone. ‘Live Free or Die’ means we should be free to speak for and about life anywhere and anytime. I knew this was coming when PP got it passed in Vermont.”

Frizzell did not specify with whom these “conversations” about buffer zones are being held. Most buffer zones are enacted through municipal ordinance.

Hodder for NH AG?

Governor Maggie Hassan will soon nominate a new Attorney General, and her legal counsel Lucy Hodder must be among the leading candidates. Hodder’s bio as abbreviated in Hassan’s press release announcing her appointment to Hassan’s staff says she is “a renowned New Hampshire health care, regulatory, and employment attorney.” No quarrels about that.

There wasn’t room in the bio, however, to mention Hodder’s advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Give credit where it’s due. She has served as counsel, and she has hosted at least one “networking” event as a private supporter (see 2010 PPNNE annual report).

Hassan is not about to name as AG anyone who does not share her abortion advocacy. Even so, it gives me pause to think of Hodder as AG if and when New Hampshire’s parental notification law is challenged, especially if PPNNE brings it to court.