News Contraception

New Hampshire Attacks On Planned Parenthood About Politics, Not Care

Robin Marty

If the Executive Council attempts to end Planned Parenthood funding look like they have Susan B. Anthony List fingerprints all over it, that's because it does.

It’s been over a year since Planned Parenthood centers in New Hampshire were denied a renewed contract as official state family planning providers by the Republican Executive Council. Since then, the organization has continued to provide essential birth control and family planning assistance to low-income and uninsured women in the state with Title X funding directly from the federal government. However, a recent move to pull their license to dispense contraception is now being proposed.

The Republicans who opposed allowing Planned Parenthood to have a family planning contract with the state weren’t shy about expressing their opposition to the idea of women having contraception in the first place. One member notoriously stated that he was against any funding of birth control, saying, “If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?”

That=e mentality continues to permeate the board, resulting in this new attempt to attack Planned Parenthood by denying them a license to dispense birth control, emergency contraception, and RU-486, claiming that since they do not have a family planning contract with the state, they do not count under pharmacy licensing rules.

There’s little doubt that this is no longer about funding, and is now a game of political jockeying. The new challenge to Planned Parenthood was filed by Michael Tierney, attorney for New Hampshire Right to Life and an allied attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund) who also happens to be running for a seat on the Executive Council this cycle.

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“Mr. Tierney’s constant and repeated efforts to eliminate birth control pills at Planned Parenthood health centers are a dangerous distraction — dangerous because he would restrict access to birth control for tens of thousands of New Hampshire women and families, and a distraction because this obsessive campaign does nothing to help our economy or support economic development,” said Democrat Colin Van Ostern, who is challenging Tierney for the Council seat. “We need an Executive Council that brings more focus to jobs & the economy, and less of this government interference in our personal lives that Mr. Tierney is so passionate about.”

Ironically, the singling out of Planned Parenthood for special treatment by the government is the same sort of complaint Tierney would rally against while acting as an attorney for his clients. In 2010, when fighting zoning conditions the government placed on a local church, Tierney stated, “Disagreement with an organization’s religious or political views should never motivate the government to impose special restrictions upon a church’s building project.” However, when it comes to imposing special restrictions on other organizations because of their political views or the fact that they provide a public health service to low-income women, that’s just fine.

The politicizing of Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire, much like across the country, in essence has little to do with the organization itself, and more to do with the agenda of ending access to birth control in the first place. Leading the charge along with New Hampshire Right To Life is Cornerstone Action group, yet another “traditional values” organization dedicated to “protecting the natural rights of families.” On their agenda? 

“Vote to preserve the rights of all citizens, including their freedom to practice their faith; Vote to protect human life from conception to death; Vote to defend traditional marriage; Vote to restore the natural right of parents to determine the best way to educate, raise and care for their children; And vote to enact free market economic policies.”

Cornerstone’s chairwoman, Shannon McGinley, is unabashed in her support of cutting off access to Planned Parenthood by any means possible. “It is impossible to ensure that taxpayer dollars directed to Planned Parenthood for so-called family-planning services don’t also pay for abortions, and it is for that reason alone that it was appropriate for the New Hampshire Executive Council to reject the abortion business’s state contract for family-planning services last year,” McGinely wrote in an op-ed piece. But even there she admits the actual agenda is to end birth control access all together. 

“Furthermore, fertility is not a disease that needs to be managed with medical treatment, and we know the exact behavioral cause of pregnancy. With the price of birth control so low, no rational person would involve government in this situation where men and women should bear the full responsibility.”

In other words, “If they want a good time, why not let them pay for it?” is back.

If it all sounds familiar, it should.  The text of New Hampshire’s legislative attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, the “Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act of New Hampshire” is very similar to that of the Arizona “Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act of Arizona,” a model legislation piece crafted by the Susan B. Anthony List. Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a SBA List spokeswoman, promoted the work in conjunction with local lawmakers in both states.

Also assisting in crafting the New Hampshire version? Alliance Defence Fund. That bill didn’t pass.

Now, ADF allied attorney Tierney is running for the vacant seat left open by the member who provided the swing vote that canceled Planned Parenthood’s family planning contract with the state. Tierney wasn’t yet running for the office when he filed his complaint against the family planning group, but being elected to the Council isn’t likely to stop his assault on the provider, or on any group that may not conform with his socially conservative beliefs.

“There are almost 30,000 women, men and teens in New Hampshire who rely on some level of federal or federal and state funding for family planning services,”  said Jennifer Frizzell, Senior Policy Adviser from the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Action Fund. “If an Executive Council member who is so focused on ending access to those services were to be elected and were to vote his tenure to those causes, that could be extremely disruptive to the well-being and safety of those individuals and our community.”

It could also be an issue that would spill over into other areas the group may potentially vote on. “The Executive Council has broader reach over contracts that effect the Medicaid program, over contracts that effect a lot of social welfare and health spending,” said Frizzell. “That type of ideological agenda could bring real harm to the health and well-being of families.”

Harm to families that will also cost the state money.

“Historically, the role of the council in overseeing government spending and good business practices is to make sure that the most qualified most cost-effective vendors are doing business with the state,” said Frizzell. “In the case of someone pursuing his agenda, he appears willing to discard the partners and the vendors who are giving the tax payers the best value and the best outcome for their dollar and instead to inject his ideology in the programs.”

To have groups such as SBA List or ADF writing legislation, pushing lawsuits, or otherwise trying to influence local policies and spending priorities may boost the profiles of anti-choice politicians, but it doesn’t sit well with the voters who will eventually decide whether or not they stay in office. “New Hampshire has a long bipartisan tradition of respecting reproductive privacy and of funding programs that make fiscal and health policy sense, like family planning,” said Frizzell. “The public finds [these national groups] very unwelcome, and does not at all embrace the way they are trying to change the nature of our state with outside money and outside values.”

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Analysis Law and Policy

After ‘Whole Woman’s Health’ Decision, Advocates Should Fight Ultrasound Laws With Science

Imani Gandy

A return to data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous "informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, has changed the reproductive rights landscape in ways that will reverberate in courts around the country for years to come. It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for a state to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word.

In an opinion driven by science and data, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority in Whole Woman’s Health, weighed the costs and benefits of the two provisions of HB 2 at issue—the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements—and found them wanting. Texas had breezed through the Fifth Circuit without facing any real pushback on its manufactured claims that the two provisions advanced women’s health. Finally, Justice Breyer whipped out his figurative calculator and determined that those claims didn’t add up. For starters, Texas admitted that it didn’t know of a single instance where the admitting privileges requirement would have helped a woman get better treatment. And as for Texas’ claim that abortion should be performed in an ASC, Breyer pointed out that the state did not require the same of its midwifery clinics, and that childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death.

So now, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in the case’s concurring opinion, laws that “‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion’ cannot survive judicial inspection.” In other words, if a state says a restriction promotes women’s health and safety, that state will now have to prove it to the courts.

With this success under our belts, a similar return to science and data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous “informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

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In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld parts of Pennsylvania’s “informed consent” law requiring abortion patients to receive a pamphlet developed by the state department of health, finding that it did not constitute an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion. The basis? Protecting women’s mental health: “[I]n an attempt to ensure that a woman apprehends the full consequences of her decision, the State furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”

Texas took up Casey’s informed consent mantle and ran with it. In 2011, the legislature passed a law that forces patients to undergo a medical exam, whether or not their doctor thinks they need it, and that forces them to listen to information that the state wants them to hear, whether or not their doctor thinks that they need to hear it. The purpose of this law—at least in theory—is, again, to protect patients’ “mental health” by dissuading those who may be unsure about procedure.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2012, in Texas Medical Providers v. Lakey.

And make no mistake: The exam the law requires is invasive, and in some cases, cruelly so. As Beverly McPhail pointed out in the Houston Chronicle in 2011, transvaginal probes will often be necessary to comply with the law up to 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy—which is when, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 91 percent of abortions take place. “Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, ‘jelly on the belly,’ often cannot produce a clear image,” McPhail noted.

Instead, a “probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called ‘public servants’ who passed and signed this bill into law,” McPhail concluded.

There’s a reason why abortion advocates began decrying these laws as “rape by the state.”

If Texas legislators are concerned about the mental health of their citizens, particularly those who may have been the victims of sexual assault—or any woman who does not want a wand forcibly shoved into her body for no medical reason—they have a funny way of showing it.

They don’t seem terribly concerned about the well-being of the woman who wants desperately to be a mother but who decides to terminate a pregnancy that doctors tell her is not viable. Certainly, forcing that woman to undergo the painful experience of having an ultrasound image described to her—which the law mandates for the vast majority of patients—could be psychologically devastating.

But maybe Texas legislators don’t care that forcing a foreign object into a person’s body is the ultimate undue burden.

After all, if foisting ultrasounds onto women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy saves even one woman from a lifetime of “devastating psychologically damaging consequences,” then it will all have been worth it, right? Liberty and bodily autonomy be damned.

But what if there’s very little risk that a woman who gets an abortion experiences those “devastating psychological consequences”?

What if the information often provided by states in connection with their “informed consent” protocol does not actually lead to consent that is more informed, either because the information offered is outdated, biased, false, or flatly unnecessary given a particular pregnant person’s circumstance? Texas’ latest edition of its “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, for example, contains even more false information than prior versions, including the medically disproven claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation.

What if studies show—as they have since the American Psychological Association first conducted one to that effect in 1989—that abortion doesn’t increase the risk of mental health issues?

If the purpose of informed consent laws is to weed out women who have been coerced or who haven’t thought it through, then that purpose collapses if women who get abortions are, by and large, perfectly happy with their decision.

And that’s exactly what research has shown.

Scientific studies indicate that the vast majority of women don’t regret their abortions, and therefore are not devastated psychologically. They don’t fall into drug and alcohol addiction or attempt to kill themselves. But that hasn’t kept anti-choice activists from claiming otherwise.

It’s simply not true that abortion sends mentally healthy patients over the edge. In a study report released in 2008, the APA found that the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health was prior mental health. In other words, if you’re already suffering from mental health issues before getting an abortion, you’re likely to suffer mental health issues afterward. But the studies most frequently cited in courts around the country prove, at best, an association between mental illness and abortion. When the studies controlled for “prior mental health and violence experience,” “no significant relation was found between abortion history and anxiety disorders.”

But what about forced ultrasound laws, specifically?

Science has its part to play in dismantling those, too.

If Whole Woman’s Health requires the weighing of costs and benefits to ensure that there’s a connection between the claimed purpose of an abortion restriction and the law’s effect, then laws that require a woman to get an ultrasound and to hear a description of it certainly fail that cost-benefit analysis. Science tells us forcing patients to view ultrasound images (as opposed to simply offering the opportunity for a woman to view ultrasound images) in order to give them “information” doesn’t dissuade them from having abortions.

Dr. Jen Gunter made this point in a blog post years ago: One 2009 study found that when given the option to view an ultrasound, nearly 73 percent of women chose to view the ultrasound image, and of those who chose to view it, 85 percent of women felt that it was a positive experience. And here’s the kicker: Not a single woman changed her mind about having an abortion.

Again, if women who choose to see ultrasounds don’t change their minds about getting an abortion, a law mandating that ultrasound in order to dissuade at least some women is, at best, useless. At worst, it’s yet another hurdle patients must leap to get care.

And what of the mandatory waiting period? Texas law requires a 24-hour waiting period—and the Court in Casey upheld a 24-hour waiting period—but states like Louisiana and Florida are increasing the waiting period to 72 hours.

There’s no evidence that forcing women into longer waiting periods has a measurable effect on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. One study conducted in Utah found that 86 percent of women had chosen to get the abortion after the waiting period was over. Eight percent of women chose not to get the abortion, but the most common reason given was that they were already conflicted about abortion in the first place. The author of that study recommended that clinics explore options with women seeking abortion and offer additional counseling to the small percentage of women who are conflicted about it, rather than states imposing a burdensome waiting period.

The bottom line is that the majority of women who choose abortion make up their minds and go through with it, irrespective of the many roadblocks placed in their way by overzealous state governments. And we know that those who cannot overcome those roadblocks—for financial or other reasons—are the ones who experience actual negative effects. As we saw in Whole Woman’s Health, those kinds of studies, when admitted as evidence in the court record, can be critical in striking restrictions down.

Of course, the Supreme Court has not always expressed an affinity for scientific data, as Justice Anthony Kennedy demonstrated in Gonzales v. Carhart, when he announced that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” even though he admitted there was “no reliable data to measure the phenomenon.” It was under Gonzales that so many legislators felt equipped to pass laws backed up by no legitimate scientific evidence in the first place.

Whole Woman’s Health offers reproductive rights advocates an opportunity to revisit a host of anti-choice restrictions that states claim are intended to advance one interest or another—whether it’s the state’s interest in fetal life or the state’s purported interest in the psychological well-being of its citizens. But if the laws don’t have their intended effects, and if they simply throw up obstacles in front of people seeking abortion, then perhaps, Whole Woman’s Health and its focus on scientific data will be the death knell of these laws too.