Committee: thumbs-down to life-issue bills; full House vote soon

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee frowned on the life-issue bills that come before it last week. The full House will meet on Wednesday, February 24 and Thursday, February 25 to vote on the committee’s “Inexpedient to Legislate” (ITL) recommendations.

On three of the bills, the votes were 11-10 on ITL motions, with Republican committee chairman Edward “Ned” Gordon joining the committee’s ten Democrats in the majority.

Usually, overturning a committee report on the House floor is challenging. Most House members don’t have time to research every bill, and so they lean heavily on the brief committee reports printed in the House calendar.

They also lean on two other things: recommendations from party leadership, and messages from constituents. Most of us can’t control the former. You can definitely influence the latter.

Contacting your representatives

Look up your representatives’ names and contact information, and reach out to them with brief, clear, courteous messages before February 24. Anger is counterproductive; long messages won’t be read; clarity reduces confusion.

My own message to my reps on the bills with 11-10 ITL recommendations will be as straightforward as I can make it: reject the Judiciary Committee’s majority reports, and then vote Ought to Pass on HB 233 (born-alive protection), HB 430 (buffer zone repeal), and HB 625 (protecting preborn children after 24 weeks’ gestation). And for crying out loud ask for roll call votes.

Explaining the votes: committee reports

The House Calendar for next week’s session contains the reports on each bill, majority and minority. Here are excerpts, along with a few irrepressible comments from me. The words from the reports are in italics.

HB 233, protection for infants who survive attempted abortions

The majority report recommending Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 233 was written by Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), who took a different tack from her claim on a born-alive bill last year that “there’s no such thing as an abortion up until birth.” This time, she offered a few other reasons for not providing enforceable protection for children surviving attempted abortion. “It provides that legislators, not parents and their physicians, should determine appropriate medical care….Infants with a few moments, hours, or days would be taken out of the arms of their parents, hooked up to machines, and their parents would be denied the right to say how these last moments of a child’s life would be spent. The majority concluded that passage of this bill was not in the best interests of the state or its citizens.”

That last sentence chills me. I devoutly hope that you never have to think about whether your own care needs to be evaluated through the lens of “the best interests of the state.”

Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) wrote a minority report on behalf of the ten committee members who supported the bill. “We ask no more than that ‘medically appropriate and reasonable care’ be provided to every baby born; no matter the circumstances of birth, no matter if the baby is wanted or not….The decision of what is medically appropriate and/ or reasonable remains where it has been, with medical providers and families….The choice is simple but profound: life or death for a helpless child.”

HB 430, buffer zone repeal

Rep. Alexis Simpson (D-Exeter) wrote the “Inexpedient to Legislate” report for HB 430. “The current law allows flexibility for communities to tailor a zone according to local factors and public safety needs.” I can’t let that pass without comment: communities have no authorization under law to set up buffer zones. Managers of abortion facilities do. “…This bill would repeal the law passed in 2014 that authorized flexible, non-arbitrary, ‘buffer zones’ around reproductive health care facilities to provide for patient safety….the current law allowing health care centers to establish buffer zones that suit their local situations should remain in place.”

That “non-arbitrary” bit was a nice touch, as fiction goes. The law delegates the authority to set up a zone to an abortion facility manager, an employee of a private concern, who determines the zone’s location and extent (“up to 25 feet”), and even whether or when a zone is needed. Merriam-Webster offers a definition of “arbitrary“: “depending on individual discretion and not fixed by law.”

Rep. Mark McLean (R-Manchester), for the ten reps dissenting from the ITL report: “…the US Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts buffer zone law upon which this law is based, and the call for a repeal of its New Hampshire counterpart has followed ever since. The minority of the committee expressed the belief that existing criminal threatening laws are adequate to address security concerns at reproductive health care facilities, and noted that no facility has ever implemented the law’s provisions in spite of the urgent need expressed by its supporters.”

HB 625, Fetal Life Protection Act

New Hampshire offers no protection for preborn children at any point in pregnancy. HB 625 would change that by restricting abortion after 24 weeks’ gestational age, with an exception for the life of the mother.

That was too much for the ten Judiciary Democrats and Republican Rep. Gordon. Rep. Marjorie Smith wrote the majority’s ITL report, saying in part: “This bill sets an extremely narrow exception to the prohibition of abortion, excluding emotional, psychological, and other health factors worthy of consideration as determined by a patient and the patient’s doctor. Not even rape or incest would be a permissible exception. Viability varies with each pregnancy. It has no predictive value in utero. It is only after birth that viability might become a relevant measure.”

Rep. Kimberly Rice (R-Hudson) offered the minority’s view. From her report: “This bill prohibits abortions on babies older than 24 weeks who can live outside of the mother’s womb, except when the alternative poses significant risk to the life or health of the mother. This bill implements the compelling state interest in protecting viable babies and minimizes risk to the mother’s health. This is about the values that define us….Testimony showed this bill to be consistent with standards of care for pregnant women who present with very difficult pregnancies. The minority of the committee believes that New Hampshire should never be a haven for those like Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania abortionist who heartlessly snipped the spinal cords of ‘accidentally’ born babies. We are proud to support legislation that reflects our values and protects the sanctity of human life. The minority stands in the gap, defending the most defenseless, and giving voice to the voiceless. New Hampshire should join the many states with post-viability bans by adopting this bill.”

Related bills

What about related bills heard last week?

HB 622, protecting nascent human life as a reasonable and valid state interest, was retained in committee and will not go before the House until 2022. Watch for a committee work session next fall.

HB 596, with its single sponsor, addressed public funding of abortion. The committee report explains the 20-1 ITL vote: “It became clear at the hearing that HB 434 had much greater support and was the preferred alternative. While many committee members support the intent of this bill, it did not make sense to have the two bills competing with each other.” As for that “preferred alternative,” HB 434 suffered one of those 11-10 ITL votes. It is not listed on the House calendar for February 24-25.

Header image: Cottonbro/Pexels.

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