News Politics

Candidates for Executive Council in New Hampshire See Divergent Paths to Health Care Coverage in the State

Robin Marty

A seat at the powerful Executive Council is open, and two very different candidates want the job. Rewire interviews both of them.

With the power and authority to single-handedly approve or deny all contracts that involve state funding, the New Hampshire Executive Council has become a small committee of elected officials as powerful as the governor. It’s a power used by the EC to politicize family planning funding in 2011, when it voted to deny a contract with Planned Parenthood as a Title X funded family planning provider.

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.

End interview.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

Culture & Conversation Media

Filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos Centers Abortion Stories in New Documentary

Renee Bracey Sherman

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

A new film by producer and director Tracy Droz Tragos, Abortion: Stories Women Tell, profiles several Missouri residents who are forced to drive across the Mississippi River into Illinois for abortion care.

The 93-minute film features interviews with over 20 women who have had or are having abortions, most of whom are Missouri residents traveling to the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which is located about 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis.

Like Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, Missouri has only one abortion clinic in the entire state.

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The women share their experiences, painting a more nuanced picture that shows why one in three women of reproductive age often seek abortion care in the United States.

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric. But while I commend recent efforts by filmmakers like Droz Tragos and others to center abortion stories in their projects, these creators still have far to go when it comes to presenting a truly diverse cadre of storytellers if they really want to shift the conversation around abortion and break down reproductive stigma.

In the wake of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, which was at the heart of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court case, Droz Tragos, a Missouri native, said in a press statement she felt compelled to document how her home state has been eroding access to reproductive health care. In total, Droz Tragos interviewed 81 people with a spectrum of experiences to show viewers a fuller picture of the barriersincluding legislation and stigmathat affect people seeking abortion care.

Similar to HBO documentaries about abortion that have come before it—including 12th & Delaware and Abortion: Desperate ChoicesAbortion: Stories Women Tell involves short interviews with women who are having and have had abortions, conversations with the staff of the Hope Clinic about why they do the work they do, interviews with local anti-choice organizers, and footage of anti-choice protesters shouting at patients, along with beautiful shots of the Midwest landscape and the Mississippi River as patients make road trips to appointments. There are scenes of clinic escorts holding their ground as anti-choice protesters yell Bible passages and obscenities at them. One older clinic escort carries a copy of Living in the Crosshairs as a protester follows her to her car, shouting. The escort later shares her abortion story.

One of the main storytellers, Amie, is a white 30-year-old divorced mother of two living in Boonville, Missouri. She travels over 100 miles each way to the Hope Clinic, and the film chronicles her experience in getting an abortion and follow-up care. Almost two-thirds of people seeking abortions, like Amie, are already a parent. Amie says that the economic challenges of raising her other children make continuing the pregnancy nearly impossible. She describes being physically unable to carry a baby and work her 70 to 90 hours a week. Like many of the storytellers in the film, Amie talks about the internalized stigma she’s feeling, the lack of support she has from loved ones, and the fear of family members finding out. She’s resilient and determined; a powerful voice.

The film also follows Kathy, an anti-choice activist from Bloomfield, Missouri, who says she was “almost aborted,” and that she found her calling in the anti-choice movement when she noticed “Anne” in the middle of the name “Planned Parenthood.” Anne is Kathy’s middle name.

“OK Lord, are you telling me that I need to get in the middle of this?” she recalls thinking.

The filmmakers interview the staff of the Hope Clinic, including Dr. Erin King, a pregnant abortion provider who moved from Chicago to Granite City to provide care and who deals with the all-too-common protesting of her home and workplace. They speak to Barb, a talkative nurse who had an abortion 40 years earlier because her nursing school wouldn’t have let her finish her degree while she was pregnant. And Chi Chi, a security guard at the Hope Clinic who is shown talking back to the protesters judging patients as they walk into the clinic, also shares her abortion story later in the film. These stories remind us that people who have abortions are on the frontlines of this work, fighting to defend access to care.

To address the full spectrum of pregnancy experiences, the film also features the stories of a few who, for various reasons, placed their children for adoption or continued to parent. While the filmmakers interview Alexis, a pregnant Black high school student whose mother died when she was 8 years old, classmates can be heard in the distance tormenting her, asking if she’s on the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant. She’s visibly distraught and crying, illustrating the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum women of color experiencing unintended pregnancy often face.

Te’Aundra, another young Black woman, shares her story of becoming pregnant just as she received a college basketball scholarship. She was forced to turn down the scholarship and sought an adoption, but the adoption agency refused to help her since the child’s father wouldn’t agree to it. She says she would have had an abortion if she could start over again.

While anti-choice rhetoric has conflated adoption as the automatic abortion alternative, research has shown that most seeking adoption are personally debating between adoption and parenting. This is illustrated in Janet’s story, a woman with a drug addiction who was raising one child with her partner, but wasn’t able to raise a second, so she sought an adoption. These stories are examples of the many societal systems failing those who choose adoption or students raising families, in addition to those fighting barriers to abortion access.

At times, the film feels repetitive and disjointed, but the stories are powerful. The range of experiences and reasons for having an abortion (or seeking adoption) bring to life the data points too often ignored by politicians and the media: everything from economic instability and fetal health, to domestic violence and desire to finish an education. The majority of abortion stories featured were shared by those who already had children. Their stories had a recurring theme of loneliness and lack of support from their loved ones and friends at a time when they needed it. Research has shown that 66 percent of people who have abortions tend to only tell 1.24 people about their experience, leaving them keeping a secret for fear of judgment and shame.

While many cite financial issues when paying for abortions or as the reason for not continuing the pregnancy, the film doesn’t go in depth about how the patients come to pay for their abortions—which is something my employer, the National Network for Abortion Funds (NNAF), directly addresses—or the systemic issues that created their financial situations.

However, it brings to light the hypocrisy of our nation, where the invisible hand of our society’s lack of respect for pregnant people and working parents can force people to make pregnancy decisions based on economic situations rather than a desire to be pregnant or parent.

“I’m not just doing this for me” is a common phrase when citing having an abortion for existing or future children.

Overall, the film is moving simply because abortion stories are moving, especially for audiences who don’t have the opportunity to have someone share their abortion story with them personally. I have been sharing my abortion story for five years and hearing someone share their story with me always feels like a gift. I heard parts of my own story in those shared; however, I felt underrepresented in this film that took place partly in my home state of Illinois. While people of color are present in the film in different capacities, a racial analysis around the issues covered in the film is non-existent.

Race is a huge factor when it comes to access to contraception and reproductive health care; over 60 percent of people who have abortions are people of color. Yet, it took 40 minutes for a person of color to share an abortion story. It seemed that five people of color’s abortion stories were shown out of the over 20 stories, but without actual demographic data, I cannot confirm how all the film’s storytellers identify racially. (HBO was not able to provide the demographic data of the storytellers featured in the film by press time.)

It’s true that racism mixed with sexism and abortion stigma make it more difficult for people of color to speak openly about their abortion stories, but continued lack of visual representation perpetuates that cycle. At a time when abortion storytellers themselves, like those of NNAF’s We Testify program, are trying to make more visible a multitude of identities based on race, sexuality, immigration status, ability, and economic status, it’s difficult to give a ringing endorsement of a film that minimizes our stories and relegates us to the second half of a film, or in the cases of some of these identities, nowhere at all. When will we become the central characters that reality and data show that we are?

In July, at the progressive conference Netroots Nation, the film was screened followed by an all-white panel discussion. I remember feeling frustrated at the time, both because of the lack of people of color on the panel and because I had planned on seeing the film before learning about a march led by activists from Hands Up United and the Organization for Black Struggle. There was a moment in which I felt like I had to choose between my Blackness and my abortion experience. I chose my Black womanhood and marched with local activists, who under the Black Lives Matter banner have centered intersectionality. My hope is that soon I won’t have to make these decisions in the fight for abortion rights; a fight where people of color are the backbone whether we’re featured prominently in films or not.

The film highlights the violent rhetoric anti-choice protesters use to demean those seeking abortions, but doesn’t dissect the deeply racist and abhorrent comments, often hurled at patients of color by older white protesters. These racist and sexist comments are what fuel much of the stigma that allows discriminatory laws, such as those banning so-called race- and sex-selective abortions, to flourish.

As I finished the documentary, I remembered a quote Chelsea, a white Christian woman who chose an abortion when her baby’s skull stopped developing above the eyes, said: “Knowing you’re not alone is the most important thing.”

In her case, her pastor supported her and her husband’s decision and prayed over them at the church. She seemed at peace with her decision to seek abortion because she had the support system she desired. Perhaps upon seeing the film, some will realize that all pregnancy decisions can be quite isolating and lonely, and we should show each other a bit more compassion when making them.

My hope is that the film reaches others who’ve had abortions and reminds them that they aren’t alone, whether they see themselves truly represented or not. That we who choose abortion are normal, loved, and supported. And that’s the main point of the film, isn’t it?

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is available in theaters in select cities and will be available on HBO in 2017.

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