NH abortion stats (and lack thereof) in the news

A front-page news item in one of New Hampshire’s best-known media outlets underscores something readers of this blog have known all along: reliable, objective abortion statistics are hard to come by in the Granite State.

The New Hampshire Sunday News for July 31 had a front-page article by Michael Cousineau headlined “NH clinics, foes weigh impact of Roe v. Wade reversal.” (The full article is available online but might be paywalled.) In the course of writing the piece, the reporter prefaced information supplied by New Hampshire abortion providers with a necessary qualifier: “Getting information on the number of abortions in New Hampshire and demographics about those patients is difficult. New Hampshire is one of only three states (along with California and Maryland) that don’t compile and report such statistics to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

He quoted Jason Hennessey of New Hampshire Right to Life. “It’s a vital statistic, just like births and deaths. It’s a number we should be keeping track of like 47 other states do.”

This is one policy initiative that needs to keep coming back to the General Court until legislators finally get it right. With or without Dobbs and Roe, the collection of objective abortion statistics and distribution of aggregated data is essential as a matter of public health. Women’s health. Self-reporting by abortion providers is a lousy basis for public policy.

I think we’re up to nine stats bills that have failed in New Hampshire since 2002. Any policymaker who wants to look at past efforts should start with the best one, HB 629 from 2015-16, when the study committee headed by Rep. Bill Nelson did the deepest dive to date on the technical aspects of stats collection. That bill got past the House on a voice vote but died on a tie vote in the Senate; I reported at the time on that disappointment.

Enough already. Let’s get a stats law.

“The power of presence”: Manchester launches 40DFL, Spring ’22

A few notes on the kickoff rally for Manchester, NH’s latest 40 Days for Life campaign:

How many times did I take these launch rallies for granted, pre-Covid? Pandemic precautions kept indoor meetings to a minimum over the past couple of years. State and municipal restrictions and recommendations are easing. Gathering at St. Thomas parish hall in Derry with other 40 Days for Life supporters last weekend felt like an exceptional celebration. It was good to greet neighbors old and new.

Althea Ansah speaking at Manchester (NH) 40 Days for Life rally, Spring 2022. Ellen Kolb photo.

Althea Ansah could have spent twice as much time at the microphone, and I still would have wanted to hear more from her. She’s a former Student for Life leader at UNH, and now she’s a WIC nutritionist and a volunteer with New Hampshire Right to Life.

She said that as a high school student, she had been supportive of abortion, seeing it as an aspect of women’s rights. As she learned more about fetal development, abortion took on another meaning. “It was like a light bulb went off.” Once at UNH, “my walls broke down.” She described going to the national March for Life in 2020 and feeling overwhelmed at seeing so many people coming together to support families.

Now, she values the many roles people have in pro-life work: legislation, prayer, apologetics, reducing the demand for abortions, and – “my favorite” – providing supportive services for people in need. There’s work for everyone. “We all have a personal stake in abortion.”

Mariah McCarron, Students for Life New England Regional Coordinator, speaking at 40 Days for Life rally in Derry NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

Did you know there are nine Students for Life chapters in New Hampshire? I didn’t, until SFL’s Mariah McCarron told me so. This includes high schools and colleges. It also includes places one wouldn’t necessarily expect, like UNH and Dartmouth. More power to them.

Mariah is SFL’s New England Regional Coordinator. She’s a veteran of sidewalk prayer outside abortion facilities, going back to her days as a college student in upstate New York. She urged her listeners in Derry to keep in mind “the power of presence. Your presence means more on the sidewalk than you will ever know.” It affects all those entering and leaving and passing by the facility, some of whom won’t respond right away but will be moved to seek conversation later. Even one’s Uber driver can notice and ask about the sidewalk witnessing, as Mariah once learned to her surprise.

man at podium wearing "40 Days for Life" shirt
Norm Thibault, campaign coordinator, Manchester 40 Days for Life Spring 2022. Ellen Kolb photo.

Norm Thibault, coordinator for the Manchester 40DFL campaign, went through all the necessary admin announcements – the campaign website, how to sign up for vigil hours, and so on – and wrapped it up with a brisk reminder. “You are pro-life supporters. Don’t let anyone call you anti-anything.”

At one of the information tables in the room, it was good to see someone representing St. Gianna’s Place, which provides shelter and support to pregnant women who would otherwise be unhoused.

Volunteers from Pennacook Pregnancy Center were there as well with literature and business cards to share. They’ll no doubt be happy to provide more to anyone who can use them. Located around the corner from the abortion facility on which 40DFL’s efforts are focused, the Center is a place for information, referral to services, and practical support for pregnant and parenting women and their partners.

Read more about New Hampshire’s three campaigns and about 40 Days for Life worldwide.

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.

These “rallies” are sure to make the news

Next Saturday, October 2, rallies for “abortion justice” (Planned Parenthood’s term, not mine) will be held in various cities across the nation. Six of them will be in New Hampshire. Per PPNH Action Fund’s Facebook post, the event will be a “demonstration of our collective uprising…continuing to fight to defend access to abortion care.”

You can find that post on Facebook yourself. I choose not to link to it.

I expect this will result in front-page Sunday news coverage for those who still read printed news. It will result in immediate news stories online. Watch for reactions from various public officials (and would-be public officials).

New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion limitation, due to go into effect January 1, is certainly one prompt for pro-abortion demonstrations. So is Texas’s so-called heartbeat law. So is the Dobbs case, involving pro-life legislation in Mississippi, which will be argued at the U.S. Supreme Court in December with a decision to follow a few months later.

The Dobbs case accounts for the timing of these rallies: the Supreme Court will convene for its 2021-22 session two days later, on the first Monday in October.

Perhaps news coverage of these rallies will include a deep dive into what constitutes “abortion care” or “abortion justice.” In case it doesn’t, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Abortion is not health care. It’s the intentional induced termination of a human life. Oddly, given the claims I’ve heard many times in legislative hearings about abortion being some kind of medical event, there’s no statute in New Hampshire of which I’m aware requiring that medical personnel be involved in any abortion. Chemical or drug-induced or “medical” abortion might be one exception, although on regulatory rather than statutory grounds, due to the need for a prescription

New Hampshire does not keep track of abortion statistics and report aggregate non-identifying data to the federal Centers for Disease Control, unlike nearly every other state in the Union. Anyone who calls a stats law a threat to “abortion justice” needs to take up the matter with the CDC, which has published abortion surveillance data for decades.

New Hampshire has an unenforced buffer zone law, passed at the behest of abortion advocates who want to prevent any demonstration outside abortion facilities. Under the law, abortion facility managers may determine the time and location of activities on public sidewalks within 25 feet of the facility. The law draws no distinction between peaceful pro-life witness and violent confrontation. It does not require that laws against trespass or harassment be enforced before First Amendment rights are abrogated. No wonder the law’s unenforced. Would repeal of that buffer zone law represent a threat to “abortion justice”? Take that up with the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously struck down a very similar Massachusetts law, on narrow grounds. Even Justice Ginsburg joined that decision.

Respecting the dignity and value of each human life from conception onward is still a step too far for some of my neighbors who are drawn to phrases like “abortion justice” and “access to abortion.” We’ll get there, I hope. In the meantime, consider this: how much justice is there in not requiring medical involvement in abortion, or in failing to collect and report abortion data to the CDC, or in trying to abrogate First Amendment rights of public, peaceful, prayerful pro-life witnesses?

Rallies come and go, and these abortion-advocacy gatherings will be no different. If they leave anything in their wake, I hope it will be the jarring impression left by the oxymoron “abortion justice.”

Exec Council to vote on contracts with PP etc.: 2021 edition

Family planning contracts are back before the New Hampshire Executive Council. Several of the contractors are abortion providers, although the contracts in question are not for abortion “services.” Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the Equality Center, and the Joan G. Lovering Center are up for contract renewal.

You can find contract details on the Executive Council website. Click on the hyperlinked item 9j on the agenda for the 9/15/21 Council meeting.

Agenda for 9/15/21 Council meeting (see item 9j)

The recently-passed state budget has some specific language about contracts with abortion providers. See pages 13 and 14 of HB 2, signed into law earlier this year. A couple of highlights: no family planning funds may be used for abortion, directly or indirectly (emphasis added); and the state may inspect contractors’ records to ensure compliance. At this point, there hasn’t been time for any such audit.

If you wish to register your opinion on these contracts or contractors, contact information for Councilors is available on the Council’s website. On the same page, you can click on each District number to see a list of the District’s towns.

If you wish to attend the Council meeting, note that it will not be held at the State House this time. District Five Councilor Dave Wheeler is hosting the September 15 meeting at St. Joseph’s Academic Center in Nashua, 5 Woodward Ave., next to St. Joseph Hospital. The meeting will begin at 10:00 a.m.