Abortion providers are once again disappointed in the Executive Council

Today, the New Hampshire Executive Council voted 4-1 to reject family planning contracts with three abortion providers, while approving on 3-2 votes similar contracts with agencies that do not perform abortions. The Council gave thumbs down to the same abortion providers in September, on the same contract proposals.

The 4-1 vote was along party lines, with Republicans Joe Kenney, Janet Stevens, Ted Gatsas, and Dave Wheeler prevailing over Democrat Cinde Warmington. On the 3-2 votes, Councilors Gatsas and Wheeler were in the minority, according to The New Hampshire Union Leader.

A majority of the councilors saying no to the abortion providers aren’t doing so because they have a problem with family planning programs. Their issue is with the abortion side of the providers’ business. They know that giving x number of dollars to an agency for a specific task frees up other agency resources for other tasks.

“Shameful,” says the VP of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “We are outraged,” tweeted the NH Women’s Forum.

The Council’s vote appears to be consistent with state law, as passed in the trailer bill to the state budget that went into effect on July 1 (HB 2, chaptered final version, section 91:36; see subsections 3 and 4):

Any contract awarded to a family planning project shall contain all of the following provisions: (1) that no state funds shall be used to subsidize abortions, either directly or indirectly; (2) that the family planning project will permit the commissioner of the department of health and human services, or his or her designated agent or delegate, to inspect the financial records of the family planning project to monitor compliance with this section; (3) that at the end of each fiscal year, the commissioner shall certify, in writing, to the governor and council that he or she, personally or through a designated agent or delegate, has reviewed the expenditure of funds awarded to a family planning project under this section and that no state funds awarded by the department have been used to provide abortion services; and (4) that if the commissioner fails to make such certification or if the governor and executive council, based on evidence presented by the commissioner in his or her certification, find that state funds awarded by the department have been used to provide abortion services, the grant recipient shall either: (a) be found to be in breach of the terms of such contract, grant, or award of funds and forfeit all right to receive further funding; or (b) suspend all operations until such time as the state funded family planning project is physically and financially separate from any reproductive health facility, as defined in RSA 132:37.

Chapter 91:36, HB 2 as enacted by New Hampshire Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu, 2021

The PPNNE spokesperson has averred that there are no unanswered questions about how PP spends taxpayer money.

According to Kevin Landrigan’s Union Leader report, Governor Sununu expressed hope that the Council will reconsider once the statutorily-required audits are complete. Landrigan quoted the governor as saying “The fight isn’t over yet,” to which Councilor Kenney reportedly replied, “I believe it is.”

In advance of the vote, the Public Policy office of the Diocese of Manchester in an email had urged readers to contact their Councilors to urge a “no” vote on contracts with abortion providers PPNNE, the Equality Center in Concord, and Lovering Health. “Keeping state funds separate from abortion activities is an important public policy-– a policy that is especially appropriate in the context presented by these particular contracts, because abortion unquestionably should not be thought of simply as an element of family planning.” 

New Hampshire Right to Life also issued a public heads-up before today’s Council meeting. “Soon after the Executive Council members decided to uphold the law in mid-September, the NH abortion providers announced increased prices for family planning services on their poorest clientele…. The abortionists thought they could bully NH taxpayers into subsidizing their abortions by increasing prices for other services….As a public service, NHRTL responded to the price increases at abortion facilities for their low-income clients by publishing an interactive map with a list of health care centers and other helpful organizations for women and their families.”

If you’d like to send your councilor a polite message about the votes, here’s contact information.

Dueling rallies in Washington over Dobbs case

While the Dobbs case was being argued at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 1, two rallies were taking place outside. I went to Washington for the day in order to stand with the people calling on the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and its cousin Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Dobbs is about a Mississippi law setting a 15-week limit on abortions. May a state regulate abortion before viability? The Supreme Court might say yes or no. It might use the case to overrule Roe, or it might make a narrow ruling that OKs the Mississippi law while somehow keeping Roe and Casey in place. We’ll find out by the end of next June.

There were about two thousand people standing in front of the Supreme Court building on December 1, roughly evenly divided between pro-life and pro-Roe. A crowd-control fence divided the two groups, although there was plenty of peaceful passage back and forth. Capitol Police kept an eye on things.

It was a noisy gathering. Each side had about three hours worth of speakers, with mics and loudspeakers. There were chants and songs and shouts. Despite the sound system, I couldn’t make out many words on either side because of the ambient noise. Anyone following the live-streamed rallies remotely probably heard more speakers than I did.

It was worth listening later to a recording of Kathryn Jean Lopez’s speech. I recommend it. https://youtu.be/4ymvmIiaiO8

I met up with a group from Feminists for Life to pick up a sign. Just about every other pro-life group I’ve ever heard of, plus a few I hadn’t, was represented in the crowd. The diversity was great, as though speakers at the side rallies at the annual March for Life had been suddenly handed the keys to the main stage. The only thing we all had in common was a determination to move past Roe.

placard saying "Peace begins in the womb"
The sign I carried outside the Supreme Court, courtesy of Feminists for Life: Peace begins in the womb.

Born-alive bill: party-line vote in Senate committee

The New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 on Tuesday to recommend “ought to pass” on a HB 233, a bill to establish a committee to study the right of born-alive children to “appropriate and reasonable medical treatment.” The full Senate is expected to vote on the recommendation in January.

The bill being recommended to the full Senate looks a lot different from the bill as passed by the House early this year.

The vote was along party lines, with Republicans Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), Harold French (R-Franklin), and William Gannon (R-Sandown) voting in favor. Democrats Rebecca Whitley of Concord and Thomas Sherman of Rye voted no.

Re-referred: how the bill was carried over from earlier this year

You may recall that HB 233 in its original version prompted a walkout by pro-abortion House members last winter. (See my report “House passes two life-issue bills” from February 24.) The walkout followed the failure of motions to kill and to table the born-alive legislation. A majority of the reps who stayed at their posts eventually voted Ought to Pass on the bill.

The original version of HB 233, sponsored by Reps. Jordan Ulery (R-Hudson) and Walt Stapleton (R-Claremont), passed the House without amendment. Then it went to the Senate, which decided to “re-refer” the bill to the Senate Judiciary committee. This is the Senate’s version of what the House calls “retaining” a bill: holding it over for more consideration in committee, delaying a vote by the full chamber until the following year.

And so here we are: HB 233 went back to the Senate committee, which cast its vote this week to recommend that the full Senate vote next month to pass an amended version of the bill.

Amending the bill

What the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to do on December 14 was recommend amending the bill, changing it from born-alive protection to studying born-alive protection. That amendment, #2292s, was co-sponsored by Sens. Carson and Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead). It failed to attract support from either of the Democrats on the committee.

Likewise, an amendment by Sen. Birdsell (1023s) to clarify HB 233’s language resulted in another 3-2 committee split, although that amendment was rendered moot by the later vote to change the bill to a study committee.

Sen. Birdsell’s amendment was actually prepared back in March for the Senate to consider. At the time, HB 233’s opponents decried the bill as an attempt to force doctors to tear terminally-ill newborns away from their parents in order to administer futile treatment. The Birdsell amendment was an attempt to allay those fears. Today, committee Democrats voted against the Birdsell amendment and then spoke as if it had never been proposed in the first place.

“Inflammatory…insulting to our medical providers”

Before this week’s committee vote, Senators Whitley and Sherman spoke at some length about their opposition to the bill. Their arguments were along these lines: there’s no such thing as a child born alive after attempted abortion; claiming otherwise is an insult to medical personnel; and the bill whether intentionally or not would force doctors to harm grieving families by imposing extraordinary medical interventions on newborns born in a condition likely to result in neonatal death.

The latter argument is likely to be dragged out yet again before the Senate vote in January, despite the Birdsell amendment that made clear the penalties in the original bill would have applied only to health care providers who withhold treatment from a born-alive child with the intention of causing or hastening the child’s death.

That leaves the no-such-thing argument. When Senator Gannon asked Senator Sherman about children surviving attempted abortion, Sherman said “that’s not the way abortion happens….That’s not something that happens in the state.” Senator Whitley added that claims that abortion survivors exist is “a false narrative,” “inflammatory,” and “insulting to our medical providers….In an abortion, a baby is not born alive.”

Noting that the hearing earlier this year on HB 233 included medical professionals objecting to the bill, Whitley expressed concern that supporting born-alive legislation would send a message to providers “that we don’t believe them.”

I can’t help but think that our state’s failure to collect and report on abortion statistics is a factor here. As long as there are no reported abortion complications, including reports on any children born alive after attempted abortion, abortion-friendly legislators can aver that such children are imaginary.

Ignoring abortion survivors

I don’t know if abortion survivors could persuade any skeptical legislators. Probably not, unless the survivor were a New Hampshire resident, and even then I expect the survivor’s claims would be met with resistance.

Melissa Ohden, a survivor herself, is dedicated to sharing her story and to giving other survivors a voice. She and other survivors have testified before Congress and state legislatures. They are advocates for legislation that protects children born alive after attempted abortion. Those advocates can’t be everywhere. I wish they could. Nothing short of a personal encounter with a survivor will pry some legislators away from the “false narrative” claim to which they cling.

Members of the Abortion Survivors Network do what they can. Some have put their stories on video, where anyone – even a legislator – can view them.

I love how Gianna Jessen, an abortion survivor living with cerebral palsy, put it to a Congressional committee: “if abortion is about women’s rights, what were mine?”

Senate to vote on “study”

The amended version of HB 233 to be voted on in the Senate sets up a legislative committee to “study the right of any infant born alive to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” There are three specified duties for such a committee, according to the amendment: consider any potential conflicts with ethics and end of life care standards; consider any potential conflicts with the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, and examine particular state laws (RSA 329:43 through 329:50) for potential conflicts.

There’s no specified duty to ensure that abortion survivors be protected.

Maybe that’s what half a loaf looks like this year: better than nothing. I believe legislators already know how they’ll vote on born-alive bills, regardless of amendments or language or attempts to find common ground. Their press releases and op-eds are probably already drafted. The only question is whether someone will buck his or her party when the bill comes to the floor.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear challenge to Roe on December 1

The state of Mississippi enacted a law in 2018 restricting abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation. It was challenged in court (of course). The case, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for December 1, with a decision to be handed down in 2022. The Court will be asked to rule on whether states may enact any pre-viability abortion restrictions.

This gives the Court a chance to overrule Roe and Casey. It also gives the Court a chance to affirm them.

For all the recent agitation that has accompanied the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justices, no one knows how Dobbs will come out.

I’ll be traveling to Washington, DC on December 1 to stand outside the Supreme Court beside pro-life activists from around the country urging the Justices to let the Mississippi law stand. Discount airfare, one-day trip, pack a lunch: no sweat. For me, it’ll be like the March for Life seven weeks early.

For those staying closer to home, a coalition of Christian groups is organizing an online prayer event to be held on November 18 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. From the event’s invitation:

Join Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians across the country coming together online to pray for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. This is the case that could could overturn Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. This historic online gathering will bring together Christians across denominations. Together, we will pray for a just outcome that protects millions of preborn babies and their mothers. Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). Join us!

Find the flyer for the November event at prayfordobbs.com. There’s also a printable information sheet about the Dobbs case. Share freely.

One needn’t be Christian to recognize the right to life, and groups like Secular Pro-Life are supporting the Mississippi law. There’s room for everyone to urge the Court to move past Roe.

So now, stats are valuable

Abortion statistics bills have been defeated numerous times in the New Hampshire legislature. This is so in spite of strong efforts by pro-life activists who want to ensure that stats collection will respect the privacy of individual women. Nope, can’t be done, say stats opponents.

Which brings us to a tweet today from the State House reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

That’s something to keep in mind the next time an abortion statistics bill is introduced. The same “Democratic leaders” (and any likeminded Republicans) calling for COVID-19-positive stats “which wouldn’t invade personal privacy” could explain their aversion to abortion stats subject to the same privacy protections.

At a minimum, I would think that the extent of post-abortion morbidity and mortality would be something worth tracking. That hasn’t gained much traction in Concord yet.

Maybe COVID will prompt some reconsideration about what it takes to collect and report aggregate public health data that protects individual privacy.