Born-alive bill: party-line vote in Senate committee

The New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 on Tuesday to recommend “ought to pass” on a HB 233, a bill to establish a committee to study the right of born-alive children to “appropriate and reasonable medical treatment.” The full Senate is expected to vote on the recommendation in January.

The bill being recommended to the full Senate looks a lot different from the bill as passed by the House early this year.

The vote was along party lines, with Republicans Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), Harold French (R-Franklin), and William Gannon (R-Sandown) voting in favor. Democrats Rebecca Whitley of Concord and Thomas Sherman of Rye voted no.

Re-referred: how the bill was carried over from earlier this year

You may recall that HB 233 in its original version prompted a walkout by pro-abortion House members last winter. (See my report “House passes two life-issue bills” from February 24.) The walkout followed the failure of motions to kill and to table the born-alive legislation. A majority of the reps who stayed at their posts eventually voted Ought to Pass on the bill.

The original version of HB 233, sponsored by Reps. Jordan Ulery (R-Hudson) and Walt Stapleton (R-Claremont), passed the House without amendment. Then it went to the Senate, which decided to “re-refer” the bill to the Senate Judiciary committee. This is the Senate’s version of what the House calls “retaining” a bill: holding it over for more consideration in committee, delaying a vote by the full chamber until the following year.

And so here we are: HB 233 went back to the Senate committee, which cast its vote this week to recommend that the full Senate vote next month to pass an amended version of the bill.

Amending the bill

What the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to do on December 14 was recommend amending the bill, changing it from born-alive protection to studying born-alive protection. That amendment, #2292s, was co-sponsored by Sens. Carson and Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead). It failed to attract support from either of the Democrats on the committee.

Likewise, an amendment by Sen. Birdsell (1023s) to clarify HB 233’s language resulted in another 3-2 committee split, although that amendment was rendered moot by the later vote to change the bill to a study committee.

Sen. Birdsell’s amendment was actually prepared back in March for the Senate to consider. At the time, HB 233’s opponents decried the bill as an attempt to force doctors to tear terminally-ill newborns away from their parents in order to administer futile treatment. The Birdsell amendment was an attempt to allay those fears. Today, committee Democrats voted against the Birdsell amendment and then spoke as if it had never been proposed in the first place.

“Inflammatory…insulting to our medical providers”

Before this week’s committee vote, Senators Whitley and Sherman spoke at some length about their opposition to the bill. Their arguments were along these lines: there’s no such thing as a child born alive after attempted abortion; claiming otherwise is an insult to medical personnel; and the bill whether intentionally or not would force doctors to harm grieving families by imposing extraordinary medical interventions on newborns born in a condition likely to result in neonatal death.

The latter argument is likely to be dragged out yet again before the Senate vote in January, despite the Birdsell amendment that made clear the penalties in the original bill would have applied only to health care providers who withhold treatment from a born-alive child with the intention of causing or hastening the child’s death.

That leaves the no-such-thing argument. When Senator Gannon asked Senator Sherman about children surviving attempted abortion, Sherman said “that’s not the way abortion happens….That’s not something that happens in the state.” Senator Whitley added that claims that abortion survivors exist is “a false narrative,” “inflammatory,” and “insulting to our medical providers….In an abortion, a baby is not born alive.”

Noting that the hearing earlier this year on HB 233 included medical professionals objecting to the bill, Whitley expressed concern that supporting born-alive legislation would send a message to providers “that we don’t believe them.”

I can’t help but think that our state’s failure to collect and report on abortion statistics is a factor here. As long as there are no reported abortion complications, including reports on any children born alive after attempted abortion, abortion-friendly legislators can aver that such children are imaginary.

Ignoring abortion survivors

I don’t know if abortion survivors could persuade any skeptical legislators. Probably not, unless the survivor were a New Hampshire resident, and even then I expect the survivor’s claims would be met with resistance.

Melissa Ohden, a survivor herself, is dedicated to sharing her story and to giving other survivors a voice. She and other survivors have testified before Congress and state legislatures. They are advocates for legislation that protects children born alive after attempted abortion. Those advocates can’t be everywhere. I wish they could. Nothing short of a personal encounter with a survivor will pry some legislators away from the “false narrative” claim to which they cling.

Members of the Abortion Survivors Network do what they can. Some have put their stories on video, where anyone – even a legislator – can view them.

I love how Gianna Jessen, an abortion survivor living with cerebral palsy, put it to a Congressional committee: “if abortion is about women’s rights, what were mine?”

Senate to vote on “study”

The amended version of HB 233 to be voted on in the Senate sets up a legislative committee to “study the right of any infant born alive to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” There are three specified duties for such a committee, according to the amendment: consider any potential conflicts with ethics and end of life care standards; consider any potential conflicts with the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, and examine particular state laws (RSA 329:43 through 329:50) for potential conflicts.

There’s no specified duty to ensure that abortion survivors be protected.

Maybe that’s what half a loaf looks like this year: better than nothing. I believe legislators already know how they’ll vote on born-alive bills, regardless of amendments or language or attempts to find common ground. Their press releases and op-eds are probably already drafted. The only question is whether someone will buck his or her party when the bill comes to the floor.

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