Remembering Jack Kenny

Jack Kenny succumbed to cancer a few days ago. He was a Manchester journalist with broad interests, astringent opinions, and an abiding devotion to the most vulnerable human beings among us. He wrote and spoke in defense of the unborn at every opportunity.

“There are no words to adequately describe the horror of babies being butchered in, or partially out of, their mothers’ wombs. That ‘abortion rights’ have become a cornerstone of the ‘feminist movement’ is not only a crime against God and humanity, it is an intolerable slander against women.(Jack Kenny, Manchester Union Leader, January 24, 1999)

A couple of years ago, Jack invited me to be a guest on his Manchester Community TV show to talk about 40 Days for Life. The opening segment was a current-events monologue from Jack, as was customary. I forget whom he was raking over the coals at the time. I do recall that he was in fine form, working without notes. He was a deadeye shot with his words.

Then he introduced me and began asking about 40 Days for Life, and the lion became a pussycat. 40DFL is all about striving for an end to abortion, meeting violence and injustice with prayer and peaceful witness. Jack was always willing to help get the word out about that.

A classic columnist

Longtime readers of the Union Leader will recall his days as a columnist there. A quarter of a century ago he held his own with editors and writers who made every UL opinion page crackle. He did his keenest work when he wrote about abortion, its effect on public policy, and the people who were on the front lines, pro and con.

“…the right to life is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a hell of a subject for neutrality.” (Kenny, UL, 9/13/98)

He once wrote about a Labor Day breakfast at which then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen was featured speaker. A Catholic priest was honored at the event for his work promoting social justice. Jack raised an eyebrow. “If you think this is ‘single-issue’ fanaticism, ask yourself this: Would [the monsignor] share a platform with someone who advocated racial discrimination or espoused anti-Semitism?…Yet Gov. Shaheen supports, promotes and defends as a ‘right’ the killing of preborn babies. No problem. Organized labor doesn’t care and the monsignor pretends not to notice.”

I like to say that “pro-life” isn’t spelled G-O-P, but Jack was beating that drum long before I joined the band. He was driven to distraction by Republicans who failed to highlight their electoral opponents’ abortion extremism. In his columns, he unhesitatingly called out abortion-friendly Republicans. When Republican majorities in Concord failed to pass parental notification legislation, he heaped scorn where it needed to be heaped, and he didn’t let up until a parental notification law was firmly in place.

Long after his days as a regular UL columnist were over, he kept up a stream of letters to the editor, playing familiar themes. From 2019: “I know some will say abortion is not an issue in local elections, but people who do not respect the right to life may not be reliable on other issues, either. The pro-abortion forces seem to think it worth the effort to promote their culture of death candidates in local and state as well as in federal elections. Too many pro-life candidates fail to defend their position for life, leaving many voters as uninformed at the end of the election campaign as they were at the beginning.”

A persistent reporter

Back in the 1990s, “Optima Health” was big news. It was an attempt to link Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center with Elliot Hospital. One of the rocks on which that venture foundered was the revelation of a scheduled abortion at the Elliot, contravening assurances that such things wouldn’t happen under Optima. It was a complex and lengthy story. While all this was going on, Jack wrote about the people who risked jail and loss of livelihood to raise alarms about the danger Optima posed to CMC’s Catholic identity.

“Many ensnared by Optima’s web of deceit” appeared under Jack’s byline in May of 1998. It was written by a professional journalist who patiently worked to untangle the skeins of the story. At the same time, it was commentary with a definite attitude, written by a man who saw good people being given a hard time for doing the right things.

“And it all started because Optima had scheduled a ‘procedure’ its officials were telling the public was not being, and would not be, performed at either of its Manchester hospitals. Unfortunately, some honest and conscientious people have been caught up in Optima’s web of deceit.”

I recall another late-’90s incident that would have been a one-day story if Jack hadn’t helped to keep it out in the open. Pro-lifers were demonstrating peacefully one evening outside a fundraising event for an abortion advocacy group; the Portsmouth police got involved; arrests and a broken wrist ensued. Jack whipped out his pencil and started asking questions of the relevant parties, leading to “Content or conduct: just what upset Portsmouth police?” and “Portsmouth heroic police make protesting perilous.”

“The right to peacefully assemble and protest belongs as much to those protesting abortion as anyone else. Or at least it used to. It can hardly be surprising if a society that no longer respects the right to life becomes indifferent to other rights as well.”

A lighter side

For all his righteous indignation, he had a sense of humor, and he knew how to aim it at himself.

“I regard [a certain Manchester politician] as a good Republican conservative, notwithstanding her support of George W. Bush for President and her fondness for such Modernist heresies as the notion that a ‘qualified’ woman should umpire professional baseball games. I reject, however, her recent assertion that I have a ‘Cro-Magnon mind.’ Flattery will get her nowhere. My mind is orthodox Neanderthal and I intend to keep it that way.”

His faith

Politics might have been a passion, but Jack knew that his Creator transcended such matters.

A few years ago, the long-shuttered St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Nashua was revived as a parish where the Latin Mass could be celebrated daily. At the very first Mass there, the place was packed with worshippers. There were old-timers from the days when St. Stan’s had been the ethnic parish in the neighborhood. There were people like me who were curious about the Latin Mass. And then there were the people already familiar with the traditional rite, praying with joy, very much at home. Jack was one of those people.

I hardly recognized him when he sat down near me. I had never seen his face in such repose. He had left his political indignation outside the door in order to put himself at the foot of the Cross.

I trust that in God’s mercy, Jack is now surrounded by the innocent souls he defended so ardently. May his repose be complete.


Jack’s obituary requests that memorial donations be made to Pennacook Pregnancy Center, 657-B Chestnut Street, Manchester NH 03104, or St. Benedict Abbey, PO Box 67, Still River MA 01467. I’ll venture to suggest that time at a 40 Days for Life vigil would be appropriate, too.

Attempt to override buffer zone veto coming on September 15

Don’t let this get lost in the pile of messages you’re receiving about the primary election: The New Hampshire House will meet on September 15 for “Veto Day,” taking up the eight bills vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu this year. Among them is HB 1625, repeal of the unenforced “buffer zone” law designed to restrict the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities.

A two-thirds majority is required to overturn a veto. If the House overturns the veto, the Senate will then attempt an override. Both chambers are meeting at 1 p.m. on September 15.

Note that Veto Day comes two days after the state’s primary election. If your representative happens to be defeated that day, he or she will still be in office until next December and will therefore be able to vote on Veto Day.

Look up your representatives’ names and contact information: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/members/

When you send your message to OVERTURN the veto of HB 1625, remember that your reps will be hearing from many people. Keep it short and to the point. If you email your rep, make sure your subject line has the relevant information, since that might be all that gets read. For example: “From a constituent: overturn HB 1625 veto.”

HB 1625 passed the House narrowly last March, 168-162, with every Democrat present voting against the bill and all but ten Republicans voting for it.

Governor Sununu in his veto message said, “In the eight years since this law was originally enacted, we know of no instance where an individual or group has been harmed by it. As a result, I am not looking to make any changes at
this time.” He has no problem with keeping on the books a law that’s based on one overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Update: The House sustained the Governor’s veto. The vote to override the veto failed, 145-175. The 152 Democrats who cast a vote all voted to sustain the veto; they were joined by 23 Republicans.

An earlier post about HB 1625: Three reasons for Governor Sununu to sign buffer zone repeal (still relevant as reasons to override his veto). I had a few things to say after the veto, too.

An abortion agenda for NH

The New Hampshire Women’s Foundation counts “abortion rights” among its interests. One of the Foundation’s recent publications lists “Post-Roe policy priorities in New Hampshire,” with footnoted credit to the New Hampshire Abortion Access Coalition.

I take no credit for being psychic, but I called a few of these the day the Dobbs decision came down. You probably did, too. Remember, Dobbs did not recognize a right to life.

The following list of “post-Roe policy priorities” should inspire an interesting Q&A session with your local candidates for state rep and state senator. Any candidate not committed to resisting these “priorities” will be a candidate who advances them.

  • “Pass proactive legislation to enshrine the right to access abortion in New Hampshire.” Translation: codify unlimited abortion via statute.
  • “Amend New Hampshire’s Constitution to enshrine the right to access abortion in New Hampshire.” Codify unlimited abortion via constitution – and possibly by misuse of our constitution’s privacy amendment.
  • “Repeal current abortion restrictions.” New Hampshire has exactly three statutory regulations on abortion: parental notification, a ban on partial-birth abortion (i.e. killing a child after the child is partially delivered from the mother’s body), and a 24-week limit with a eugenic-abortion exception. Goodbye to all that, if the Foundation has its way.
  • “Address disparities in abortion care based on geographic location, including for abortion later in pregnancy.” Watch out for regulatory (executive, administrative) action on this in addition to statutory action. Open more abortion facilities? Force hospitals to provide the direct intentional termination of human life late in pregnancy? Whatever it takes, I suppose.
  • “Support policies to ensure abortion and abortion-related care is covered for all patients, regardless of insurance.” Translation: force taxpayers to subsidize abortion via Medicaid. Again, watch for regulations that do what statutes can’t.
  • “Increase the number of providers who offer abortion care.” Here’s one way: make health care providers see the intentional termination of human life as a normal medical procedure, and then stigmatize and sanction providers who push back.
  • “Defeat anti-abortion legislation in the State House.” Translation: keep doing everything the abortion advocacy movement has been doing in New Hampshire since 1997. A sampler: oppose conscience protections for health care providers; challenge the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses; fight informed consent and statistics-reporting requirements for abortion; promote discrimination against people with disabilities by promoting eugenic abortion; make sure that infants who survive attempted abortion are not protected under law.

The state primary election this year is September 13. The time to find out where your local candidates stand is now. And an “R” next to your candidate’s name is not an answer.

Author of Lamy decision has died; called for fetal homicide legislation

Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice James Duggan has died, and may he rest in peace.

According to a New Hampshire Sunday News report, Duggan was famed as a public defender before being named to the Court by then-Governor Shaheen. For me, his reputation rests on something else: his authorship of the State v. Lamy decision in 2009. Without that case, we might still be fighting for a fetal homicide law in New Hampshire.

The 4-0 decision overturned the manslaughter conviction of an impaired driver whose speeding vehicle collided with a vehicle driven by a pregnant woman. That victim’s baby was subsequently delivered by cesarean, but died a few days later of injuries sustained in utero caused by the impact of the collision.

Later convicted of multiple charges, the speeding driver appealed. While most of the convictions were upheld, the Court overturned the manslaughter conviction for the death of the baby. The Court ruled that existing New Hampshire law simply did not address the circumstances of the case. The baby had’t been “alive” for legal purposes when he sustained the injury.

And then Duggan added a compelling call to action: “Should the legislature find the result in this case as unfortunate as we do, it should follow the lead of many other states and revisit the homicide statutes as they pertain to a fetus.”

Getting there took eight years, two particularly brave and persistent families, and some heartbreaking setbacks. The inexplicable and outrageous resistance of abortion advocates to fetal homicide legislation carried too much weight for too long. Finally in 2017 New Hampshire’s legislators and governor followed the Court’s advice.

I think that the families who came forward again and again to testify about their lost children made the difference. The Lamy decision gave their testimony indispensable support.

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.