Latest on NH abortion stats: legislators hold work session

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

It’s not dead yet: House Bill 629, a proposal to authorize New Hampshire officials to collect abortion statistics, was reviewed at a legislative work session on September 8. It was introduced last January, but it never made it to the House floor after the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee voted to retain the bill until 2016. A subcommittee led by Rep. Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield) is looking at the bill this summer and fall. “I’d like to see if we can move this forward,” said Nelson.

If “forward” ever comes, it will be no earlier than January 2016, when the House and Senate re-convene. If the bill is ever passed, and if Governor Hassan decides in an election year not to veto it, it would probably take a year to put into effect. Figure mid-2017 as the earliest possible time New Hampshire might collect abortion statistics, and a year and a half after that to get results from the first year’s data collection – and that’s if all goes well with HB 629 next year.

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Passing a stats bill remains uphill work. There are apparently legislators who are quite content for New Hampshire to remain one of only three states not reporting any abortion information to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Other legislators will support a stats bill as long as it amounts to a guide to where in the state to promote more contraception. Any resemblance to a marketing plan for Planned Parenthood would no doubt be entirely coincidental.

Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye), a physician, told his colleagues, “A lot of what I do is driven by statistics, but the first rule of statistics is [to know] how are they going to be used. If the goal is to reduce abortions by identifying how many are occurring and if there’s an area where there’s an untoward number, fine.”

The bill’s co-sponsors take a broader view. Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) told the subcommittee, “We have no idea what’s going on in our state [regarding abortion]. We have only anecdotal information. That’s why this bill is here. It’s straightforward and will lead to good public policy.”

A fellow legislator with a history of opposing abortion regulation was skeptical. “How do you expect this knowledge to be used?” asked Rep. Helen DeLoge (D-Concord). “Abortion isn’t a communicable disease. Only me, myself and I is affected.”

Affected, indeed. Who’s doing abortions, and whose procedures are leaving women injured? How old are the mothers? How far along in pregnancy are abortions being done in our state, and how does gestational age affect the risks an abortion poses for the woman? Are abortions being performed for reasons of rape or incest, and if so, are the assailants being prosecuted for assaulting women?

Subcommittee members are looking at what data other states are collecting. There’s no nationwide standard.

One thing was clear at the work session: the subcommittee will not bring forward any bill that calls for public identification of abortion providers. There was even discussion of preventing public health officials from knowing the names of providers – a problematic proposal, as we shall see. A woman seeking abortion would thus have no way of knowing if her provider had a history of botching abortions. The subcommittee consensus was that collecting names, even if the publicly-available data were to be aggregated to protect patient and provider identities, would lead to violence against providers.

I can’t help but think that that’s a consensus to warm Kermit Gosnell’s heart. Women who were unaware of what was going on in his “clinic” kept him in business. The Keystone State abortionist, now imprisoned for murder and manslaughter, would have gotten away with killing Karnamaya Mongar and killing children who survived attempted abortion if he hadn’t been accidentally discovered by pill-mill investigators.

Patricia Tilley of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services was on hand to answer technical questions from the subcommittee: When the subject of identifying providers came up, she sounded a cautious note. Rep. Sherman made a pitch for tracking abortions by region rather than by provider or even facility. Tilley replied that such an approach would affect the validity of abortion data. “We wouldn’t know who’s reporting [statistics] and who’s not reporting. You would take away the ability for us or anyone to do QA [quality assurance] on provider data.”

That gives subcommittee members something to mull over before their next meeting.

There are other statistics in the proposed bill with which the subcommittee had no trouble: maternal age, fetal/gestational age, date of abortion, method of abortion, maternal residence by county or other geographic subdivision. Public identification of women seeking abortions would be off-limits, and statistical reports would be generated using aggregate data. The DHHS officials expressed concern about a penalty clause in the bill that could conceivably threaten DHHS workers who make innocent mistakes in data collection or processing; that clause may very well bite the dust by the time the subcommittee makes its final recommendation. All of this would make for a good start on a stats bill.

Good starts have been made before, though. And still we wait.

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