Abortion Statistics: Putting Down a Marker for Women’s Health

March 7, 2014

 As yet another abortion-statistics bill approaches a vote in the New Hampshire House, one legislator’s words stand out. Rep. Don LeBrun (R-Nashua) wrote an explanation for his committee’s recommendation that HB 1502 be sent for interim study. Here is what he had to say, as printed in the House calendar:

“The committee is committed to collect any meaningful public health data in an aggregated form.”

 That’s a marker. I’m going to keep an eye on it. I want to believe it means something.

If you cared about women’s health, why wouldn’t you want to know how abortion affects it? Why won’t the Granite State collect and report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control, as nearly every other state does?

In New Hampshire, the absence of reporting requirements screams “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Let’s not talk about how many women and adolescents choose abortion. We don’t want the public to know if anyone has post-abortive complications or if a particular provider is a Gosnell-in-waiting. No need to know if late-term abortions are happening.

It’s time for New Hampshire legislators and public health officials to shrug off old attitudes. It’s time to stop relying on voluntary reporting by abortion providers, who are happy to provide data to the private Alan Guttmacher Institute while fighting to block state reporting requirements.

The states that report statistics to the CDC don’t all collect the same information. Some states track the number of abortions, period. Others seek more detail. Some New Hampshire abortion providers expressed concern at the hearing on HB 1502 that statistical collection might not preserve anonymity for women and for providers. To them, I say look to other states and see how they get the job done.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England covers Vermont and Maine as well as New Hampshire. At the hearing on HB 1502, one committee member asked the PPNNE lobbyist if statistics were collected in the other two states. She said yes – and went on to object to HB 1502 anyway.

“Interim study” can mean “file and forget.” This time, a legislator speaking for a committee has said “the committee is committed to collect any meaningful health data in an aggregated form.” Rep. LeBrun’s sincerity is not in question. The collective will of the committee is another matter entirely.

The marker is down. Let’s see what happens.

Ellen Kolb