House committee deflects attack on Fetal Life Protection Act

HB 1609, an attempt by five Republican legislators to weaken the 18-day old Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA), got a cool reception in the New Hampshire House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs (HHS) Committee on Tuesday.

After hearing testimony, the committee voted 11-10 along party lines to throw out the original text of HB 1609 and replace it with language clarifying the ultrasound provision of FLPA. The original sponsor of FLPA, Rep. Beth Folsom (R-Wentworth), drafted the adopted amendment which says in part that the ultrasound provision in New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion limit “shall be construed to require the performance of an ultrasound only if the provider either knows that the fetus has a gestational age of at least 24 weeks or is conscious of a substantial risk that the fetus has a gestational age of at least 24 weeks.”

“Let’s fix the misunderstanding,” said Folsom, referring to false claims by abortion advocates that FLPA mandates ultrasounds before any abortion.

The amended version adopted by the committee clarifies and reaffirms FLPA with its 24-week abortion limit, without weakening the law. That’s the version that will go to the full House for a vote within a few weeks.

The original version of HB 1609, rejected by the committee, would have repealed an ultrasound requirement altogether, and would have allowed late-term abortion of children with disabilities or who were conceived in rape or incest. “This legislation is not pro-abortion,” said Rep. Dan Wolf (R-Newbury), one of 1609’s sponsors, in spite of the fact that expanding abortion is exactly what his bill would have done.

Testimony: strongly against HB 1609 as introduced

In a hearing that ran well past its allotted time, only two people testified in favor of HB 1609 as introduced, without reservation: sponsors Reps.Wolf and John Graham (R-Bedford). Governor Sununu submitted a letter to the committee expressing his support for the bill, although no one from his office offered oral testimony.

Former state senator Matthew Houde, now vice-president for government relations for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, testified that D-H supported some of HB 1609 as introduced but found “it doesn’t go far enough” to change FLPA. That was as close as the sponsors could get to winning over anyone at the hearing.

On the other hand, twenty people at the hearing testified against HB 1609 as introduced.

Among the speakers were people unwilling to write off children with “fetal anomalies,” a term favored by abortion advocates who don’t want to be accused of practicing eugenics by aborting human beings with adverse prenatal diagnoses. Some women testified to how they felt pressured during pregnancy by medical personnel who counseled abortion when a child received an adverse diagnosed in utero. They also testified to how some of those diagnoses had been wrong.

A woman spoke of the man for whom she has long been a caregiver. At birth, doctors expected him to be dead within six months due to his disabilities. That man is now 50 years old, despite the dire predictions made at his birth.

An assault survivor gently chided a legislator who spoke of late-term abortion as something that must be available to rape survivors.

A woman with more than 40 years of experience in health care urged the committee to reject the original language of 1609, saying “abortion doesn’t fix the violation” of sexual assault.

Rep. Folsom was particularly courageous as one of the last committee members to speak before the vote. Her committee colleague Rep. Joseph Schapiro (D-Keene) explained that he wouldn’t vote for Folsom’s “well-intentioned” amendment because he was concerned it didn’t take into account the difficulties experienced by survivors of rape and incest. Rep. Folsom quietly informed him that she herself is a rape survivor. “I’ve never told anyone this in public. I do understand what someone goes through when they’ve been raped. And I have had to make some decisions. It’s not easy…. The counseling that helped me move forward in my life was counseling for the rape.”

When testimony was complete and the committee went into executive session to vote on the bill, Rep. James MacKay (D-Concord) expressed concern that “the other side” hadn’t had a chance to speak. It’s unclear what “other side” he meant, since everyone present who signed up to speak was allowed to do so, even though that meant bumping other hearings to a later time. Quite simply, the sponsors of HB 1609 couldn’t round up many supporters for the in-person hearing.

Party lines?

While the committee’s vote was party-line, with Republicans in the majority, it is clear that weakening the FPLA was the goal of the five other Republicans who introduced HB 1609. The Governor apparently sides with those five.

Rep. Len Turcotte read a terse statement from the House Majority Office (GOP) opposing the bill as introduced.

Now that HB 1609 has been amended in a manner that strengthens and clarifies the FLPA instead of gutting it, will Republicans unite in supporting it?

There’s no sign of dispute among House Democrats at this point. Nothing that keeps FLPA intact will get their support. (I’ll be happy to take note of any Democrat breaking ranks on that.) On Tuesday, all 10 Democrats on House HHS voted against HB 1609 as amended. Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom) said during the hearing that the original version of HB 1609 “removed troublesome language” from FPLA, but once the bill was amended, he said it didn’t go far enough.

“Give it more than ten business days”

Amid more than two hours of testimony on the substance of HB 1609, some procedural arguments came up. One in particular struck me, courtesy of Upper Valley resident Margaret Drye, whose good sense has struck me before. She pointed out that FLPA went into effect only a few weeks ago, on January 1. Why the rush to weaken it? “Give it more than ten business days,” she advised the legislators.

I commend that thought to the Governor.

Video of the hearing may be viewed on YouTube: NH House of Representatives Committee Streaming, House Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs, 1/18/22. The hearing (testimony and executive session) for HB 1609 begins at 20:35 and ends at 3:07:30.

Hearings this week: “Access to Abortion Care Act” and attacks on Fetal Life Protection Act

Three abortion-advancing bills will get a hearing this week in Concord. On January 18, the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee will hear HB 1609, gutting the recently-enacted Fetal Life Protection Act (FPLA). On January 19, in the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear one bill that would repeal FPLA outright, and another that would make abortion throughout pregnancy a statutory right enforceable in court.

New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion limitation hasn’t even been in effect for three weeks, and even that’s too long for these legislators. Mark your calendars. Plan to attend, or sign in remotely, or submit written testimony – or go for the trifecta by doing all three. You can attend the hearing without speaking; your presence will have impact. Spread the word about the need for remote sign-ins from people who can’t attend the hearings!

Reminder: “FN” simply means that the bill has a fiscal note, indicating an effect on state spending. You do not have to include those letters when communicating with a legislator about the bill.

HB 1609, weakening the Fetal Life Protection Act

Hearing: Tuesday, January 18, 2022, 9:50 a.m., Legislative Office Building rooms 210-211, House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. You can sign in online TODAY to register your opposition to the bill, following the directions on the House website at this link.

Six Republicans have introduced HB 1609, weakening FLPA, presumably making it more palatable to Governor Sununu. It would repeal the ultrasound requirement in FLPA, and add exceptions to FLPA’s 24-week limit to allow late-term eugenic abortion as well as late-term abortion of children conceived in rape or incest.

In an attempt to sweeten the bowl of mush, the sponsors added a provision calling for the collection of abortion statistics. I’ve told people for years that if the legislature ever passes a stats bill, I’ll go away happy. HB 1609 isn’t my idea of a stats bill.

The six Republicans who are co-sponsoring the measure with no help from Democrats are Reps. Dan Wolf (R-Newbury, chief sponsor), Brodie Deshaies (R-Wolfeboro), James Allard (R-Pittsfield), John Graham (R-Bedford), Bonnie Ham (R-North Woodstock), and Joseph DePalma IV (R-Littleton).

Repeat after me: “prolife” is not spelled G-O-P. A bill that makes the intentional termination of human life more readily available is not a prolife bill.

SB 399-FN, repealing the Fetal Life Protection Act

Hearing: Wednesday, January 19, 2022, 1:00 p.m., State House room 100, Senate Judiciary Committee. You can sign in online TODAY to register your opposition to the bill, following the directions on the Senate website at this link.

The sponsors for some reason are calling SB 399 “repealing the fetal health protection act” when the law they’re attacking is clearly named “fetal life protection act.” Go back to page 14 of HB 2, the budget trailer law, if you don’t believe me. But I digress.

You’ll recall that the Fetal Life Protection Act, limiting abortions in New Hampshire to 24 weeks, went into effect January 1. SB 399 would repeal it. It’s a 3-line bill, deceptively nicknamed by the sponsors the “Reproductive Health Privacy Act,” and it would go into effect immediately if passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor. Sponsors are all ten of the Senate’s Democrats, led by Sen. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua). House co-sponsors are Reps. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), Alexis Smith (D-Exeter), Amanda Bouldin (D-Manchester), Katherine Rogers (D-Concord), and Renny Cushing (D-Hampton).

Side note: Another effort to repeal the Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA) is on hold. Abortion advocates on the House Judiciary Committee took a “retained” bill from 2021 (HB 622), threw out its language, and replaced it with language repealing FLPA. When that stunt reached the full House on January 7, the bill was tabled. Stay tuned; it’ll be back.

SB 436-FN, “relative to access to abortion care”

Hearing: Wednesday, January 19, 2022, 2:00 p.m. (right after the hearing on SB 399), State House room 100, Senate Judiciary Committee. You can sign in online TODAY to register your opposition to the bill, following the directions on the Senate website at this link.

SB 436 goes like this: “It shall be the public policy of New Hampshire that, because it is vital to the equality and liberty of all individuals, the state shall not restrict or interfere with an individual’s exercise of their private decision to terminate a pregnancy except as provided in RSA 329:44 and RSA 132:32-RSA 132:36.”

But wait, there’s more: “An individual injured as a result of a violation of this chapter shall have a private right of action in superior court against the state for injunctive relief arising from the violation. In addition to any injunctive relief awarded, the court may award costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to an injured person who prevails in an action brought under this chapter.”

So… if the state protects the First Amendment rights of peaceful prolife witnesses outside an abortion facility, does that constitute “interference” with termination of a pregnancy? Will the state get sued for not stopping peaceful prolife witness?

If SB 436 were to be enacted, would an individual seeking a late-term abortion be able to sue the state because FLPA is on the books?

Abortion advocates heard the uproar when they tried to enshrine abortion in the New Hampshire constitution a couple of years ago, and they backed off. Now, they’re trying to get the job done via statute.

Go on record any way you can

Refer to the tool kit for this legislative session, my modest attempt at a guided tour of how to testify in person and communicate online with your reps. Time to put it to work.

Current Covid precautions at the State House and Legislative Office Building include encouragement of mask use.

Your tool kit for for the ’22 legislative session

The New Hampshire General Court is back in business in Concord for 2022, and things look closer to normal in House and Senate than they did last year. Here are some links and information to help you get your pro-life messages across to your representatives. Bookmark this page for reference during the 2022 legislative session.

The basic site, starting with ID’ing your reps

The General Court website (gencourt.state.nh.us) is your guide to keeping up with legislative business in New Hampshire. Spend a few minutes exploring it. It’s been revamped since the beginning of the last session, so it might look different than you’re used to. Same good information, different design.

  • New Hampshire House members page (gencourt.state.nh.us/house/members): you can select your town from a drop-down menu and find out the name and contact information for each of your state representative. Your town or ward might have only one rep or more than a dozen. Make sure you know who they are, regardless of party or voting record. Each and every one of them is accountable to you. Bonus on the House contact page: you can download a complete House roster, if you’re so inclined.
  • New Hampshire Senate members (gencourt.state.nh.us/senate/members/wml.aspx): select your town from the drop-down menu to get your senator’s name and contact information. The full Senate roster is on a separate page.
  • Finding bills: the left side of the General Court homepage will help you look up a bill by its number, a keyword (text), or sponsor’s name.
  • The House standing committees (gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/standingcommittees.aspx) page will give you a link to each policy committee – Education, Judiciary, Health and Human Services, and so on. That’s where to find the names of each committee member.
  • Likewise, the Senate has a committee page (gencourt.state.nh.us/senate/committees/senate_committees.aspx).

Calendars

The House and Senate calendars, published weekly in printable PDF format, list all the public hearings for the coming week. The calendars are usually available online on Thursday evenings. Each chamber (House and Senate) maintains a digital calendar as well.

Hearings: in person and online

[edited to add this information] While you need to attend a hearing in person in order to offer spoken testimony, you can listen to hearings online. Click on the House or Senate digital calendar to find the committee or bill whose hearing you want, and you’ll find a link to the livestream.

Testifying on bills, and the critically-important remote sign-in procedure

One big change from 2020’s pandemic-triggered online procedure: you won’t be able to testify during a hearing remotely this year. If you want to speak to a committee at a hearing, you need to get yourself to Concord. Expect rooms to be set up with some distance between seats. As of early January, masks are optional in the State House and Legislative Office Building, but that policy could change. I’ll keep a mask handy when I head to Concord.

However, one innovation from last year is being continued, and it’s a good thing: you can sign up remotely to register your opinion to committee members on a specific bill. This is a very important development in public participation. During a hearing, the committee clerk will read aloud the tally of sign-ins, pro and con. If a life-issue bill has 600 people registering one way and only 30 registering the other, that’s going to be news.

Remote sign-in on a bill is available as soon as the bill is posted in the calendar, and you should sign in no later than 30 minutes before the scheduled start of a hearing to make sure the committee clerk has your name.

When you fill out the online sign-up form, you should get a confirmation page with instructions for submitting written testimony if you want to indicate more than simply support/oppose.

Anyone – whether testifying in person, signing up remotely, or doing neither – can submit written testimony to any committee on a bill being heard by that committee. If you email the committee at its address (remember those committee pages I mentioned above), the message will automatically go to each committee member. You can also use snail mail sent to a committee or its individual members (remember the postal service?), which nowadays could make your message stand out. Every elected official is flooded with emails, particularly when the topic is a life issue.

Brevity, clarity, charity

Whenever you contact a legislator or committee:

  • Keep it brief. If you’re testifying in person, you’ll probably have no more than three minutes. If you have a relevant personal story, talk about that. Your written testimony can be longer, and it can include documentation or data to augment your spoken testimony. Once a bill gets to the full chamber for a vote and you’re contacting each one of your reps, it’s best to be brief once again. Let them know you’re happy to offer more information, but for the most part, they’ll only have time to read a short message.
  • Keep it clear. Your call to action needs to come first: “please support [bill number].” Don’t say “vote yes” or “vote no” unless you’re absolutely certain on what motion a committee or chamber is voting on; a “yes” vote on an “inexpedient to legislate” motion is a vote to kill a bill. If you want a bill to pass, say “please support this bill.” If you want a bill to be killed, say “please oppose this bill.”
  • Keep it polite. Regardless of your feelings about a particular rep or the rep’s party, you’re talking to a neighbor whenever you communicate about a piece of legislation. Someday, your courteous message might be the one to spark a constructive one-on-one conversation with a rep who is usually not supportive of pro-life policy. That’s how persuasion works. Be courteous, say please, and send a thank-you when a rep gets a vote right.

Take a State House tour – and allow time to find parking

Anyone who has ever heard me talk about the New Hampshire State House knows that I am a raving fan. It is absolutely worth a tour. Our State House is on the small side (especially for a state with 424 legislators), and it could use some tech upgrades, and it is not a modern building. Don’t be put off: it’s a gem. At a minimum, if you’re up there, stop at the Visitor Center on the first floor. The team there can give you a brochure for a self-guided tour, or you can book a tour in advance. Street address: 107 North Main Street, Concord.

If you’re going to a hearing in the Legislative Office Building, it’s across State Street from the rear of the State House. Street address: 33 North State Street, Concord.

There’s a pedestrian tunnel connecting the LOB and the State House, which can be handy if you have business in both places. There’s a cafeteria down there at the State House end.

Parking in Concord near the State House can be a challenge. However much time you think it’ll take to get to Concord, add another ten minutes for finding parking. The city of Concord has a web page dedicated to downtown parking which includes a map of parking areas along with information on the handy Pay by Phone app (requiring a smartphone). If you don’t use the smartphone app, be sure to bring quarters.

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.