Will New Hampshire finally start collecting abortion statistics? A recommendation one way or the other should emerge soon from a legislative committee – perhaps I should say another legislative committee, since this is not the first time a stats bill has been under consideration. Rep. Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester) and ten co-sponsors are patiently promoting this year’s version.
A House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs subcommittee will have its final public work session on HB 629 on Wednesday, October 21, at 11 a.m. in room 205 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord. The bill will be voted on by the full committee on Thursday afternoon, November 5. (Watch Leaven for the Loaf’s Facebook page for updates on time and location.) Whatever the committee recommends is what the full House will vote on, probably in January 2016.
There was a small announcement in this week’s New Hampshire House calendar:
Who knew what to expect? I went to Concord to see for myself to see if this effort could get off the ground.
I needn’t have worried. After a late start due an earlier meeting running longer than expected, the double-sized hearing room began to fill up. Rep. Kathy Souza of Manchester and Rep. Kurt Wuelper of Strafford welcomed colleagues as they arrived. Representatives could pick up Precious Feet pins and March for Life flyers on the way to their seats. The atmosphere was upbeat and collegial.
So yes, there is a pro-life caucus in the New Hampshire House. It’s a bipartisan group. Seven of New Hampshire’s ten counties were represented at this morning’s meeting. Experienced legislators are participating along with first-termers.
Of the many familiar faces in the room – including two legislators from my home town – I was particularly gratified to see Rep. Sue DeLemus of Rochester. She served as a state rep in 2011-12, testifying powerfully on life-issue bills as a post-abortive woman. After losing her seat in 2012, she regained it last November. She never, never puts up with the word “choice” when the speaker means “abortion.” During a pro-life rally in the 2014 campaign, she told voters “I have a very personal connection with the right to life, because I had an abortion. There is no one in this House who can testify the way I can.”
Before the meeting began, I asked Rep. Souza if House leadership had said anything about dealing with social issues. “The message that’s going out is ‘these are the issues,’ and social issues are not on the list. We’re not getting the message that we’re not doing them, but we’re not getting the message that we are doing them, either.”
“There are a lot of good [life-issue] bills in,” she continued. “We want everyone to know that these bills are out there.” A partial list: buffer zone repeal, abortion statistics, fetal homicide (two versions, yet to be reconciled), a ban on post-viability abortions.
(My own fearless forecast: when the post-viability bill comes up, abortion advocates will make two simultaneous and contradictory claims: “no such abortions are done in New Hampshire” and “this bill endangers New Hampshire women’s health.” You heard it here first.)
“We have to acknowledge the environment we’re in,” said Rep. Wuelper. That environment includes not only a leadership agenda from which the life issues are absent but also a governor so adamantly pro-abortion that she signed a buffer zone law days after the U.S. Supreme Court found a nearly-identical law unconstitutional.
As of this week, that environment also includes a group of reps standing together to say they’re not waiting to be given permission to work towards good public policy on the life issues.
Rep. Souza sees promise in an abortion statistics bill, given the recommendations of a 2014 study committee. “[Right now] we don’t know to whom [abortions] are happening, where they’re happening, or why they’re happening. Is [a certain county] having a disproportionate number of abortions? Where do we need to put pregnancy care centers?”
“I think that one of the things that’s been lacking in the pro-life movement is organization,” said Rep. Wuelper. “Here, we can strategize and work together to advance the cause of life. That’s what this is all about.”
I wish these legislators well. They’re off to a good start.
Sunday paper, front page, above the fold: good old-fashioned public-service reporting can’t get better placement than that. The May 19 New Hampshire Sunday News featured an article, credited to “staff report,” headlined “Officials say NH abortion sites need state scrutiny.”
Why aren’t the sites getting the scrutiny now? Because they are classified as physician offices. Here is a quote from the article, giving us the information straight from the New Hampshire department responsible for overseeing public health.
“Kris Neilsen, communications director for the state Department of Health and Human Services, explained in an email that abortion clinics like Planned Parenthood and the Concord Feminist Health Center are exempt from state licensing and inspection requirements because they are considered physician offices. Twenty-three health care providers such as hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and dialysis centers are licensed by the state, but not abortion clinics. ‘In New Hampshire, there is no such thing as an abortion clinic – the majority of abortions are done in doctors offices … and doctors’ offices are exempt from licensure under RSA 151:2 II,’ Neilsen said. ‘Because they are exempt, we have no jurisdiction over them, and neither does anyone else.'”
Click on the link to the Sunday News article to read the responses from New Hampshire’s abortion providers, who have clearly not taken the Gosnell case to heart except as an opportunity to circle the wagons. Remarkably, the public policy director of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England gave the Sunday News nothing beyond the formal post-Gosnell statement issued by the national PP office. No improvisation allowed on this one, apparently.
Words like “exempt” and “no jurisdiction” should not apply to any facility where abortions are performed. How did New Hampshire policy get to this point?
Enough legislators and over the years bought the claim that abortion is “health care,” no different from cancer screenings or annual checkups.
Enough legislators have bought the claim that “choice” and “women’s health” are synonymous.
Abortion advocates in New Hampshire have done a good job of building coalitions fearful of losing Roe, ensuring that all attempts at regulating the industry are met with public opposition from medical and pastoral professionals as well as abortion-facility clients.
Arising from and reinforcing all these factors is New Hampshire’s refusal to demand full and accurate reporting of adverse abortion outcomes for women. Without accurate and objective statistical information, abortion providers can get away with saying that there is no evidence that New Hampshire women are at risk when they seek abortion.
None of these factors takes into consideration the medical and legal status of the fetus. One need not accept fetal personhood to see that abortion providers in New Hampshire have an unjustifiably privileged status under law. Why should such providers escape the regulations that govern dialysis or medical labs or end-of-life care? It makes no sense from the point of women’s health. Put an abstract “right” to abortion ahead of concern for actual women, though, and the current situation makes a weird sort of sense.
References to physicians’ or doctors’ offices are ironic in this context. There is no restriction in New Hampshire on who may perform abortions, with or without medical training. The “reputable” abortion providers who employ physicians and nurse-practitioners are silent on whether they would support legislation to change that.
It depends on which has the higher priority: women’s health, or unrestricted access to abortion.
One also wonders where the HHS representative quoted by the Sunday News got the information that most abortions in New Hampshire are performed in doctors’ offices. That would indicate that someone is keeping track. In fact, no one is.