Abortion statistics, 2022: House committee takes up HB 1654

I was too late for the hearing, but it’s not too late to email the committee: HB 1654-FN is this year’s version of an abortion statistics bill, and it will soon get a vote in the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs (HHS) Committee.

The text of HB 1654 might or might not win over longtime opponents of stats bills. It provides for confidentiality for patients and providers alike, which has sometimes been a sticking point in earlier stats bills. It calls for reporting of aggregate data, not personally-identifying information.

A brief encouraging email to House HHS is in order, asking for an Ought to Pass recommendation on HB 1654. You can reach all committee members with a single email to HHSEA@leg.state.nh.us.

At least nine bills have been introduced since 2002 calling for New Hampshire to collect abortion statistics. The Centers for Disease Control accepts abortion data from almost every state in order to produce an occasional report on the number of abortions nationwide. New Hampshire is one of very few states that decline to participate.

Sponsors of HB 1654: Reps. Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), Kurt Wuelper, (R-Strafford), Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), James Spillane (R-Deerfield), Linda Gould (R-Bedford), and Betty Gay (R-Salem), and Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead).

2019 was when the last abortion statistics bill failed to pass. One of the members of House HHS who is still on the committee, Rep. Joseph Schapiro (D-Keene), said at that time, “It’s hard for me to separate statistics from a movement to make abortion more restricted.”

Try, sir.

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.

The attack ad told me to check the facts – so I did

(I wrote this essay for Cornerstone, which has kindly given me permission to re-post here.)

I am an “undeclared” voter, in the parlance of my state’s election laws, which means I’m not registered with any political party. I get a hefty pile of political ads in the mail every day during election season, as both major parties try to win my vote. Check the facts, they urge me.

I recently got a mailer from the state Democrat party attacking a state senate candidate, Gary Daniels, who happens to be a friend of mine. The mailer informed me that Daniels was coming to take away my reproductive rights.

Mailer from New Hampshire Democratic Party opposing pro-life candidate
No wonder “check the facts” is in the tiniest print.

I know the candidate and his voting record, so I was skeptical of the mailer right off the bat. But right there in tiny print on the front was that challenge: check the facts.

Fact number one: the first claim printed on the mailer cited a “vote” that Daniels never cast. He was not a member of the legislature at the time the bill in question was introduced.

“Opposes reproductive health care”

The footnote to the claim that Daniels “opposes reproductive health care” points to HB 685 (2020). Gary Daniels, while he is a former senator, was not in office in 2020. The incumbent in that seat is Shannon Chandley, whose party is responsible for the false claim that Daniels voted on HB 685.

Chandley voted in favor of the bill. That is not to her credit.

HB 685 was an abortion insurance mandate. It was not about reproductive health care. It was about violating the conscience rights of people who would rather not be involved in abortion, even tangentially, by providing insurance for it. It was about equating abortion with maternity care. As the Governor pointed out in his veto message, it was also about violating the federal Weldon Amendment, which would have cost the state millions of dollars in federal funds for human services programs in New Hampshire.

(The Weldon Amendment prohibits federal funds from going to states that discriminate against any health care entity which does not pay for or provide coverage for abortions.)

A vote for HB 685 doesn’t look to me like support for health care. Instead, it looks like contempt for conscience rights.

“Opposes doctor-patient confidentiality”

The mailer goes on to proclaim that Daniels “opposes doctor-patient confidentiality.” Another footnote, this one for HB 629 (2016).

HB 629 was an abortion statistics bill. Not only was it written to protect patient confidentiality, but it contained language to protect provider identity as well. That was how the bill made it through the House on a voice vote, before it was tabled in the Senate after an effort to pass it failed on a 12-12 vote.

I participated as a representative of a policy group, Cornerstone Action, in every hearing and work session between the time the bill was introduced in January 2015 until it died on the table in the state senate in May 2016. I know how great a role confidentiality played in the lengthy negotiations.

To say that support for abortion statistics is “opposition to doctor-patient confidentiality” is a lie. Period.

“Opposes access to contraception”

The footnote to the third claim on the anti-Daniels mailer (“opposes access to contraception”) takes us all the way back to a 2015 bill, SB 42, “relative to employee notification of contraceptive coverage” in employer-provided health insurance. This was an attempt to hang a scarlet letter on companies that were exempt from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

This bill was so poorly received in the state senate that it was tabled and killed on a voice vote. It never even made it over to the House.

The only roll call vote on the bill was on a proposed amendment that was rejected on a 12-12 tie. Daniels voted against the proposed amendment because he understood the underlying bill.

That’s it. There’s no truth that the vote on SB 42 was about “access to contraception.” No one’s access to contraception was at issue. This bill was all about annoyance with the Supreme Court and with anyone who objected to the contraceptive mandate.

Now, more than ever…

In bold print, the mailer from the state Democrat party tells me that “now, more than ever, we need to come together to protect state level reproductive health.”

Let me fix that for them.

Now, more than ever, we need to come together to respect each other’s rights of conscience.

Now, more than ever, we need to come together to put women’s health ahead of politics, and start reporting abortion statistics including maternal morbidity and mortality. Forty-seven other states have figured out how to do that with aggregate data that protects patient confidentiality.

Now, more than ever, we need to reclaim the authentic meaning of rights and health.

And while we’re at it: now, more than ever, we need to call out a party when it fabricates a vote in an effort to smear a candidate. Just because there are footnotes doesn’t mean the information is accurate or reliable.

I suspect Gary Daniels is not the only candidate whose pro-life record is going to be misrepresented. Do your local candidates a favor: if you hear an accusation about “opposing contraception” or “opposing doctor-patient confidentiality,” call for documentation. If what you get in reply are references to HB 685, HB 629, and SB 42, now you know what they really mean.

The party that created that mailer will have to find another way to attract my vote.

Update: Again, N.H. House says No to abortion statistics

The naysayers are still saying Nay. Given an opportunity to include abortion statistics in a bill regarding collection of health care data, the New Hampshire House ran in the other direction this week. The underlying bill, SB 111, came up for a hearing last month, when an employee of the executive department requesting the bill visibly blanched when a committee member proposed an amendment: adding abortion statistics to the mix.

The executive department requesting the bill was the Department of Health and Human Services. I can only imagine the Commissioner’s reaction to the SB 111 public hearing.

Have no fear, Mr. Commissioner. SB 111 was passed by the House this week without any pesky amendments.

Left unaddressed is the question of why so many representatives who think abortion is health care don’t want to include it in a health care data collection program. But I digress.

There was a roll call on the abortion-statistics amendment. The amendment failed, 135-211. Here’s the link to the roll call, with a “Nay” vote being a vote against the collection of abortion statistics. The heading on that roll call page says “SB 111 Roll Call,” but it’s a vote on the amendment, not the underlying bill.

The underlying bill passed on a voice vote, free of amendments.

I respect and thank the representatives who co-sponsored the amendment: Reps. Walt Stapleton (Sullivan County district 5), William Marsh (Carroll 8), Mark Pearson (Rockingham 34), Charles McMahon (Rockingham 7), Joseph Guthrie (Rockingham 13), Dennis Acton (Rockingham 10), Edward DeClercq (Rockingham 8), and John Fothergill (Coos 1). In addition, Rep. Bill Nelson (Carroll 5) gave an eloquent speech on the floor of the House to introduce the amendment.

New Abortion Stats Dispute Comes Up in Committee

“It’s hard for me to separate statistics from a movement to make abortion more restricted.”

Let those words roll around in your head for a moment. We’ll get back to them.

No, I’m not digging up my notes from HB 158, the abortion statistics bill killed by the New Hampshire House a few months ago. The quote that opens this post is from a hearing on another bill altogether, SB 111, on healthcare data. Having passed the state senate, SB 111 is now in the hands of the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs (HHS) Committee.

SB 111 was meant to be a housekeeping measure, revising and updating procedures for collection of various health-related data. Take a look at the fascinating NH Health WISDOM web site to get a sense of the kind of information the state tracks. SB 111 was introduced at the request of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Independently, it occurred to several people that with health care data up for discussion, DHHS’s lack of abortion data was a missing piece. Four representatives – Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield), William Marsh (R-Wolfeboro), and Mark Pearson (R-Hampstead – drafted an amendment to SB 111 for the HHS committee to consider, basically adding abortion to the data covered by the bill.

That is not what DHHS had in mind. Thanks to my day job, I was present when the amendment was introduced at a subcommittee work session. I think “dismay” is the best word for the look on the faces of the DHHS staff present when they heard it.

Some of the state reps weren’t thrilled, either.

To make a long story short, the subcommittee declined to accept the amendment, and instead recommended that the bill as introduced be forwarded to the full HHS committee for a vote on May 7. When that day came, Rep. Stapleton politely brought up his proposed amendment (slightly tweaked and re-numbered since the subcommittee session). After a half hour of discussion, committee chair Rep. Lucy Weber (D-Walpole) decided to put off the vote on SB 111 and any amendments until the week of May 13.

That’s where it stands. I can say with confidence that the underlying bill is not in dispute. Any proposed amendment involving abortion statistics is another story. There are procedural objections to an amendment, but the substance is where one finds the real rub.

During the May 7 committee discussion, Rep. Joe Schapiro (D-Keene) took note in the calmest of tones of what he called efforts around the country to restrict abortion. (Maybe if someone were to tell him about New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, he’d feel better.) Then came his summation about the amendment: “It’s hard for me to separate statistics from a movement to make abortion more restricted.”

His colleague, Rep. Susan Ticehurst, was noticeably agitated as she registered her opinion about the controversial amendment. “I’m not going to sit here and pretend we’re talking about data.”

Actually, we are. Abortion and data collection are not mutually exclusive. Data collection and privacy protection are not mutually exclusive, either, as SB 111 underscores: it covers many kinds of data the state has collected for years while protecting patient privacy.

Insistence on suppressing data collection regarding one condition suggests fear of what the data will show.

One rep stated that DHHS already collects abortion statistics, but I’m skeptical about that. I’m not aware of any mandatory reporting rule that has gone into effect at the freestanding facilities where most of New Hampshire’s abortions take place. (No one is seriously asserting that hospital records would tell the whole story.) Given the intense opposition from abortion-friendly reps to any suggestion that abortions be counted, I don’t believe New Hampshire makes a serious attempt at present to find out how many induced terminations of pregnancy are happening statewide.

DHHS officials needn’t lose sleep. I expect passage of SB 111, with no provision for abortion statistics. Still, I’m glad that a few representatives are willing to point out the missing piece .