While the eyes of Americans across the country watch New Hampshire, the eyes of New Hampshire women (and the men who care about them) are looking at the candidates' positions on the issues that directly affect us: women's health.
Cross-posted with permission from the Women are Watching blog (in association with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund).
In New Hampshire, we take pride every four years when the eyes of the nation turn attention to our independent-minded state, as we play host to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
In recent weeks, the national media has shone the spotlight on our small state as the Republican presidential candidates sprint toward the first electoral test on the road to achieve their party’s nomination.
And now Primary Election Day has arrived.
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While the eyes of Americans across the country watch New Hampshire, the eyes of New Hampshire women (and the men who care about them) are looking at the candidates’ positions on the issues that directly affect us: women’s health. Since Planned Parenthood Northern New England faced its own defunding battle with the locally elected Executive Council earlier this year (over a routine contract renewal for Planned Parenthood health services), New Hampshirites are standing up and taking notice. We are worried about what we have seen and heard.
Our state has had a bipartisan tradition of supporting family planning and other critical primary health care services for half a century, and now many women are staring in disbelief at the Republican candidates on today’s ballot who have pledged to defund Planned Parenthood health services and define “personhood” in a manner that could outlaw many common forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. That’s why we’re taking action.
It was amazing to see the hundreds of Planned Parenthood supporters from across the state who turned out to share their commitment to protecting women’s health. From college students to health care professionals, numerous women and men rely on PPNNE health centers for their everyday primary health care. Many of them are troubled by the divisive rhetoric against Planned Parenthood, and motivated to engage their friends and family to elect pro-women’s health candidates up and down the ballot in 2012. As part of our Women are Watching event they made posters, recorded personal narratives, and signed up to volunteer. They are not only watching, they are engaging. Most importantly, they will be voting.
Here at the PPNNE Action Fund, we are harnessing their energy and preparing for legislative and electoral battles in 2012. We are recruiting and supporting candidates who want to promote and protect access to women’s health care. Our early efforts are focused on unseating the Executive Councilors who voted to take basic health care away from thousands of Planned Parenthood New Hampshire patients, and we are thrilled to be supporting Colin Van Ostern as he challenges the decisive vote in our defund battle, Councilor Dan St. Hilaire.
After today, the eyes of the nation may move on to South Carolina or Florida, but here in New Hampshire, women are committed to staying vigilant as we watch what the candidates say and do on the issue of women’s health. And in case you missed it, make sure to watch the video from our first Women are Watching kickoff event and hear what the women had to say.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte's defenders have made claims about her commitment to "strengthening women's health" through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.
The tight race between incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) could help determine which party takes control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. In recent months, a key point of contention has emerged among Ayotte’s supporters and critics: the senator’s record on reproductive rights and women’s health.
Planned Parenthood Votes released an ad in April claiming Ayotte is “bad for New Hampshire women,” signaling the continuation of the heated narrative in the lead-up to the election.Ayotte’s defenders have responded to the accusations with claims of her commitment to “strengthening women’s health” through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.
“For months, Senator Kelly Ayotte has followed party bosses, refusing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. And for years, Ayotte has waited for an opportunity to push for someone to end access to safe, legal abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade,” claims the Planned Parenthood Votes ad, before playing an August 2010 clip of Ayotte advocating for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. “For New Hampshire women, the consequences of letting Kelly Ayotte play politics with the Constitution could last a lifetime.”
The $400,000 ad buy, slated to run on broadcast and cable in New Hampshire, has beenPlanned Parenthood Votes’ first on-air ad targeting a Senate race in the 2016 election cycle. The organization, a national independent expenditure political committee, is criticizing Ayotte for claiming to protect women but failing to protect reproductive rights, also drawing on her pledge to obstruct filling the vacant Supreme Court seat in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.
“Kelly Ayotte may try to paint herself as pro-woman, but her record tells a very different story. Every chance she’s gotten she’s voted to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and cut women off from essential health care like birth control and breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, in a statement on the organization’s new ad. “She has been advocating for years to ban women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and it’s clear she now sees her chance in the Supreme Court process. Kelly Ayotte is refusing to do her job, and abdicating her constitutional duty, in order to push an extreme agenda that no one in New Hampshire wants.”
Ayotte’s campaign manager, Jon Kohan, meanwhile, defended the senator’s record on women’s health and rights in a press release. He wrote, “Kelly’s long record of standing up for New Hampshire women and families is clear, and she cares deeply about ensuring all women have access to health services.” The release included a bulleted list providing examples of Ayotte’s work “strengthening women’s health care,” “supporting working women,” and “protecting domestic or sexual assault victims.”
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The claims may be familiar to those following the New Hampshire race. After Hassan announced her candidacy in October, for example, One Nation, an issue-advocacy organization that does not need to disclose where their funding comes from and is affiliated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, pushed a 17-day, $1.4 million ad campaign toutingAyotte’s record on women’s health.
Hassan, on the other hand, has the support of organizations such as EMILY’s List, whose stated mission is to help elect pro-choice women into office. After endorsing the governor in the Senate race, the group added Ayotte to its “On Notice” list for “voting for anti-woman legislation and standing in the way of policies that give working families a fair shot.”
But with both sides of the race simultaneously claiming opposing positions on whether Ayotte has been good for women and reproductive rights, what is the truth?
Ayotte has made no secret of her desire to defund Planned Parenthood, and she “has shown support for defunding the organization or opposition to continued funding in at least six votes,” according to PolitiFact, though some of those votes were procedural. Though she famously chided Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for attempting to shut down the government over his crusade to strip the reproductive health provider of money in the wake of anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress’ deceptively edited videos, it was because she didn’t view his methods as a winning strategy for accomplishing that goal—not because she didn’t believe in the cause.
In a letter to Cruz, Ayotte told the Republican presidential candidate that she too is “deeply disturbed by” CMP’s videos and doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood should have federal funding.”This callous disregard for the dignity of human life is heinous, and I do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund a private organization that performs hundreds of thousands of abortions each year and harvests the body parts of unborn children,” wrote Ayotte. She went on to ask what Cruz’s “strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood” really was, given that their mutual efforts to redirect the organization’s funding to other clinics had failed.
Planned Parenthood does not use its federal funding to provide abortions; its fetal tissue donation program has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple state and federal investigations. And despite claims from conservatives, including Ayotte, that other facilities could provide Planned Parenthood’s patients with health care should the organization lose funding, the Guttmacher Institute found that “credible evidence suggests this is unlikely. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care.”
“Our analysis shows unequivocally that Planned Parenthood plays a major role in delivering publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies to women who are in need of such care nationwide,” the Guttmacher Institute concluded.
Ayotte has also supported numerous other anti-choice restrictions and legislation, including a 2015 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unfounded claim that fetuses feel pain at this point in pregnancy.
According to NPR, Ayotte has “been a hero to anti-abortion activists since 2005, when as New Hampshire attorney general she defended a parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The law required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking an abortion at least 48 hours prior to the procedure, and contained no exceptions for the health of the patient. The Court ultimately ruled against Ayotte, affirming that states may not enact abortion laws that don’t protect women’s health and safety.
National Right to Life found that the New Hampshire senator voted “with” the anti-choice organization in all 14 of the scored votes from 2012 to 2015it examined.
In 2012,Ayotte co-sponsored the failed “Blunt Amendment,” which would have allowed exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit for any employers or insurers that had moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. And in a 2014 commentary for the Wall Street Journal,Ayotte and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) defended the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which grants someemployers the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their staff based on the owner’s religious beliefs, falsely claiming that the ruling did “not take away women’s access to birth control.”
Ayotte’s campaign is quick to point to legislation sponsored by the senator that would have allowed over-the-counter contraception as proof that she cares aboutwomen’s health. Reproductive health advocates, however, called Ayotte’s Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act a “sham” when it was introduced in 2015. Though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) generally supports over-the-counter birth control, the organization’s president Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, said in a statement that Ayotte’s measure “would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.”
Paid leave is yet another issue in which Ayotte has put forth legislation in the name of helping women. Ayotte introduced the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act of 2015 in March of that year, claiming it would “allow greater flexibility for workers who are looking to better balance their work-life demands.” Analysis by ThinkProgress, however, found that the measure “could weaken already weak rules that require workers to be paid extra for working extra hours, thus ensuring that workweeks don’t grow out of control and employees are compensated fairly.”
Earlier in 2015, Ayotte signed on as a co-sponsor of the Working Families Flexibility Act. According to a statement from the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) condemning the legislation, the act claimed to “give hourly workers more flexibility and time with their loved ones by allowing them to choose paid time off, rather than time-and-a-half wages, as compensation for working more than 40 hours in one week.” However, the bill did “not promote family friendly or flexible workplaces,” explained the nonprofit organization in a fact sheet. “Instead, it would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time, and have predictability, stability, and true flexibility at work.”
Ayotte’s record on equal pay has been similarly debunked by advocates. One of the policies highlighted by Ayotte’s campaign in the wake of Planned Parenthood Votes’ ad was the senator’sintroduction of the Gender Advancement In Pay (GAP) Act in September 2015, which she reintroduced ahead of Equal Pay Day thisApril. The measure was meant to make clear that “employers must pay men and women equal wages for equal work, without reducing the opportunity for employers to reward merit,” according to a press release from Ayotte’s office upon the initial release of the bill.
Critics argued that Ayotte’s bill was nothing other than an election-year stunt. New Hampshire state Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) told NH1 News that Ayotte’s move was an attempt to look “for some cover … in an effort to be more in line with” New Hampshire voters, after Ayotte voted against other fair pay measures. However, Soucy said, the legislation didn’t really address the issue of pay equity. “Sen. Ayotte’s bill attempts to create paycheck fairness but doesn’t in fact do so because employers could preclude their employees from discussing what they make with their fellow employees,” claimed Soucy.
Similar arguments were made when Ayotte co-sponsored another equal pay measure, the Workplace Advancement Act, with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in April 2015. Though the legislation would ban employers from retaliating against their staff, it failed to garner support from Democrats. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill would have done “more harm than good” as it “entirely [ignored] the many loopholes and inadequacies in current equal pay laws and simply [stated] that pay discrimination ‘violates existing law.'”
Their arguments are bolstered by Ayotte’s repeated votesagainst the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, though as Politifact again pointed out, some of these votes were procedural and not against the bill itself. Ayotte did cast one vote in favor of ending debate on the measure and advancing it; the fact-checking site noted, though, that Ayotte’s office reportedly did so in the ultimately denied hopes of changing the bill.
Had it passed, the legislation would have updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to include protections such as prohibiting retaliation against employees who share their salary and strengthening penalties for those who violate the law. Ayotte claims she voted against the measure because it “could reduce the ability of employers to award merit pay for good performance and limit the opportunity for women to have flexible work schedules,” according to a press release on the matter.
Speaking at a town hall event in 2013, Ayotte had previously justified her vote against equal pay legislation by asserting that it “created a lot of additional burdens that would … make it more difficult for job creators to create jobs.” The New Hampshire senator went on to add that there were already laws in place that could help address the issue.
There are, however, some examples of Ayotte supporting and introducing legislation that would help women. In June 2015, Ayotte co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect pregnant people from workplace discrimination. Though the legislation never came to a vote, it would have helped “end … discrimination and promote healthy pregnancies and the economic security of pregnant women and their families,” according to the NPWF. That same year, the New Hampshire senator co-sponsored the Protect Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act, bipartisan legislation that would have safeguarded access to free annual mammograms for women ages 40 to 74. Ayotte co-sponsored the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2014 and 2015, which, according to Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s website, would “protect students and boost accountability and transparency at colleges and universities” when it comes to sexual assault. Ayotte also co-sponsoredthe Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 to address the issue in the military.
Overall, Ayotte has signed onto or supported numerous pieces of legislation that at face value seem to promote reproductive health and women’s rights. Further examination shows, however, that—with a few exceptions—they largely failed to hold up to scrutiny. While Ayotte’s campaign alleges that many of her measures would have helped women and families, analysis suggests that her conservative solutions to addressing these issues often would have made the problems worse. This, coupled with the senator’s fierce anti-choice advocacy, will no doubt keepthis portion of Ayotte’s record under tight observation as November’s election approaches.
Many responded to the move with outrage and Daniel St. Hilaire, believed to be the swing vote for de-funding, chose not to run for re-election in the fallout from the incident. Now, two new candidates are vying for the vacant seat. Businessman Colin Van Ostern, a Democrat who vocally supports the reproductive health care provider, is up against Republican Michael Tierney, a conservative lawyer who works with New Hampshire Right to Life, and who instigated a lawsuit that anti-choice activists hoped could get the group’s pharmaceutical license pulled.
Both candidates agreed to answer a few questions that put their very different views on health care, family planning, and the role of the council on display.
Do you believe that the lawsuit against Planned Parenthood may turn off potential voters?
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Republican candidate Michael Tierney: No. The lawsuit is a Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of my client, New Hampshire Right to Life. The suit is to obtain copies of government documents regarding how the department of Health and Human services determines how to fund entities. While many voters have very strong opinions regarding the government funding of Planned Parenthood, one thing that most voters can agree on is that there should be openness and transparency regarding how our government operates.
Democratic candidate Colin Van Ostern: New Hampshire voters want public servants who will focus on jobs & economic development—not those who will push out-of-the-mainstream crusades against birth control as Mr. Tierney has done consistently in recent years, right up to and including his current attempts to strip Planned Parenthood of their pharmacy license.
Is it accurate to say, as Mr. Tierney has claimed, Mr. Van Ostern was “funded by Planned Parenthood, and if so, what sort of effect does that have on the campaign?
Tierney: Yes. Mr. Van Ostern has not hidden the fact that he supports the funding of Planned Parenthood and that proponents of the funding of Planned Parenthood have made significant contributions to his campaign. I suspect that Mr. Van Ostern will continue to have a substantial fundraising advantage throughout the rest of this campaign.
Van Ostern: For more than three decades, Republican and Democratic lawmakers and governors alike have relied on Planned Parenthood as one of many valuable community health organizations which provide preventive care for tens of thousands of New Hampshire women, men and families every year. I do not believe our state government should be pushing a political agenda against them for partisan reasons when the result is that real women and families can be left without access to the care they need.
Van Ostern said that this election will be about economic matters, not reproductive health. Do you both see your potential role on the council the same way?
Tierney: There are two primary roles of the Executive Council: (1) to approve spending (2) to approve gubernatorial appointments. In exercising these powers, I agree with Mr. Van Ostern that there are many important economic matters that will come before the Council. One of the most important economic matters is whether the state is getting the most effective and efficient services. This is important regardless of whether the services at issue are health, education, transportation, or any other area. One way that this can be achieved is by increased competitive bidding for state contracts. Former Councilor Deborah Pignatelli has championed increased competitive bidding as a way to ensure that our limited tax dollars are not wasted. I would hope that Mr. Van Ostern would join Councilor Pignatelli and me in calling for increased competitive bidding for contracts.
Van Ostern: I do not believe our state government should be rolling back access to health care—in an ideal world, this is not an issue one way or the other for the Executive Council, because we need a Council relentlessly focused on supporting job-creation and economic development, not this divisive agenda.
Some would consider access to birth control and contraception an economic savings, as it would cut down on the costs of maternity care and resources that would then need to be paid for by the state. Do you disagree?
Tierney: The Executive Council has not restricted access to birth control but only sought to have the funding go to the most efficient and effective provider. In the aforementioned FOIA lawsuit, HHS officials stated that birth control is cheaper at Walmart than what the government pays Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has stated that full service health clinics such as Manchester Community Health Clinic would be able to provide equivalent Title X services at lesser cost to the government if the medical manual which Planned Parenthood was required to provide to the government was in turn shared with potential bidders. If two different entities are able to provide equivalent services, the contract should go to the entity that is able to do so at less cost to the tax payer.
The government should not, however, be looking at children as a burden on society. We need to embrace children and properly care for children and their mothers and fathers. While looking for efficiencies in how we provide services, we cannot as a society look at children or any other subset of our society as an economic cost but rather must look at them as human beings worthy of dignity. While it would be best for a child’s parents to provide for their own child, in cases in which this is not possible, we as a society must reach out and assist these parents in the caring of their children.
Van Ostern: For over 30 years, every Republican and Democratic Governor in New Hampshire has agreed that it is in our best interest as a state for low-income women and families to have access to birth control when they need it. It’s fiscally smart and morally sound. And the truth is that the politicians trying to de-fund preventive care at Planned Parenthood under short-sighted cries of fiscal responsibility are the same ones suing to strip Planned Parenthood of their pharmacy license, which clearly has nothing to do with dollars and sense. It’s an ideological agenda against birth control, plain and simple, and it is a massive distraction to the important work the Executive Council should be doing to support job creation and economic development in our state.
The seat is open because St. Hilaire no longer felt he could win in that district. How do you see yourself as a better fit than St. Hilaire?
Tierney: The district has become more Democratic with the 2012 redistricting but it can still be won. I believe my message of limited government and serving as a check on the bureaucracy to ensure efficient and effective spending resonates wells with the voters. As I have been campaigning across the state, from Durham to Keene and from Franklin to Henniker, people have almost uniformly agreed with me that we need to decrease regulatory climate which is stifling job creation. We need to ensure that the department heads, which are approved by the Executive Council, are qualified and competent leaders and not partisans with an agenda of increasing regulations and expanding the size of their agencies. We need to make sure that our Executive Council says no to wasteful and excessive spending. In yesterday’s primary, the Democrats chose the extreme liberal Van Ostern over the moderate elder statesman John Shea. While Mr. Van Ostern has a history of support for a income and sales tax, I will make sure that we keep state spending within current revenues.
Van Ostern: I am running to bring balance back to Concord and support the creation of good jobs and strong communities. New Hampshire is an amazing place to raise a family and grow a business. Our state government should be supporting what makes this state great, but too often Concord has been obsessed with ideological crusades that distract from key priorities. Over the past year our Executive Council has rolled back consumer protection, restricted access to birth control, and halted plans for passenger rail. Instead, it’s time to support innovation, education, research and development, and to ensure our state government is efficient and well-managed.