House votes to gut Fetal Life Protection Act

Edited/updated to include information on all relevant procedural votes preceding the final House vote.

Overturning a committee recommendation, The New Hampshire House has voted to pass the original version of HB 1609, which would effectively undermine the Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA). After rejecting (without a roll call) the amendment proposed by the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs committee (HHS), the House voted 179-174 to pass the bill with its original language.

According to on-the-scene tweets and subsequent reports from the Union Leader (@KLandriganUL) and WMUR (@AdamSextonWMUR), the failure of the committee amendment was followed by a vote to table (177-176, with GOP Speaker Packard breaking a tie), then a vote to remove from the table (178-175), and finally a vote to pass the bill as introduced (179-174).

House docket (status report) on HB 1609 after House action. See notes for February 17: amendment failed (AF) on a division vote (DV, no roll call), followed by motions to table and then remove from table (MA = motion adopted), finally Ought to Pass motion adopted on a roll call vote.

So what will the bill do?

HB 1609, backed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu, is intended to weaken the Fetal Life Protection Act, a 24-week abortion limit that went into effect earlier this year. (see HB 2 from 2021, at page 14.)

As described by Cornerstone Action, HB 1609 “…leaves a shell of the law [FLPA] while stripping out the ultrasound requirement, the only objective measure of gestational age. The resulting unenforceable law would be worse than nothing. HB 1609 also inserts additional exceptions, but these are little more than a distraction when compared with the devastating removal of the ultrasound provision.”

HB 1609 as passed by the House therefore shreds the Fetal Life Protection Act.

HB 1609, since it has a fiscal note attached, is supposed to go to the House Finance Committee before heading to the Senate. That Finance hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Governor pleased with outcome

HB 1609 – introduced by a handful of Republicans – is something Governor Chris Sununu wants to see passed without amendment. The avowedly pro-choice Governor said after the House vote, “I would like to thank the bipartisan group of legislators who voted to pass HB 1609 today. This is another step in the right direction as we work to make necessary changes to our laws, and I urge the House Finance Committee and members of the State Senate to keep up the momentum and get this bill across the finish line.”

The Governor said before he was elected that he’d sign a late-term abortion ban. He didn’t say he’d try to preserve one. So he signed last year’s HB 2 with FLPA, and now he’s working to gut it. He had a chance to clarify FLPA by backing the committee amendment to HB 1609, and he chose not to do that.

To his credit, the House Majority Leader Jason Osborne expressed disappointment with the outcome of the HB 1609 vote. “I am disappointed to see so many of our House members who still feel the need to cater to extremists on this issue.”

Preview and review: upcoming House hearing and votes, results of earlier hearings

On Tuesday, February 15, a House committee will hold a hearing on a medical conscience bill. Details below. What you can do: sign in online in support of the bill. Healthcare professionals, take note.

On Wednesday or Thursday, February 16 or 17, the full House will vote on a bill that was intended to gut New Hampshire’s Fetal Life Protection Act – and the House has the opportunity to adopt an amendment which would actually protect FLPA. Details below, along with a note on what will happen the same day to the abortion statistics bill. What you can do: contact your state representatives.

On Friday, February 18, the House Judiciary Committee will vote on the six life-issue bills on which they held hearings recently. Details (you guessed it) below. What you can do: contact the committee. You might be dismayed at the way the online sign-ups went on these bills. No need for dismay: let this be a spur to action.

Finally, to update an earlier post, you’ll read how the Senate voted on a pair of life-issue bills.

Continue reading “Preview and review: upcoming House hearing and votes, results of earlier hearings”

Your presence, sign-ins, testimony all needed in House Judiciary this week

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee will be in Representatives Hall on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Will you be there to meet them?

This is a long post, and you can thank the folks who scheduled six related bills over two days. Bear with me.

Even if you don’t attend the hearings, sign in now on any bill, before its hearing, to register your opinion to the committee. You can also submit written testimony, whether or not you attend. See the end of this post for How-tos.

All-day sessions are tough for concerned citizens. (They’re tough for reps, too, but the reps knew that when they ran for office.) Better brief attendance than none at all. Judiciary is the committee providing the clearest support for my maxim “pro-life is not spelled GOP,” and it would be a mistake to take any committee member’s vote for granted.

I’m going to stress some of these bills more than others. I’ve linked to each bill’s listing on the General Court website so you can read them for yourself and decide which hearings to attend. On both days, these hearings are scheduled for Representatives Hall in the State House in Concord.

Wednesday, February 9: buffer zone repeal, heartbeat bill, father’s involvement in abortion decision

1 p.m.: HB 1625, buffer zone repeal

The right thing for the committee to do is recommend Ought to Pass on HB 1625 and thereby repeal the odious buffer zone law. Anyone who is sincerely concerned with both the safety of people inside “reproductive health” facilities AND protecting peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights needs to go back to the drawing board, because New Hampshire’s law is flawed in every way.

Search “buffer zone” on this blog and you’ll get an idea of what I think about the current buffer zone law: it protects no one, violates the First Amendment, and sets the state up for expensive litigation it can only lose. It needs to be repealed.

HB 1625 would repeal a 2014 law that allows abortion facility managers to determine the location and timing of zones outside their facilities where certain activities are prohibited. Municipalities may be consulted before a zone is set up, but they do not have veto power. Only an abortion facility manager can decide when and where to post a zone. It makes no difference under the buffer zone law whether the prohibited activities are peaceful or violent, silent or noisy, with or without signs.

Does such a law protect the safety of people in the facilities? Not if can’t be enforced, and thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, it certainly cannot be enforced in its current form. Repealing it is the right thing to do, and that’s what HB 1625 would accomplish.

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion in McCullen v. Coakley, which struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law substantially similar to New Hampshire’s (a decision that came out within days of the-Gov. Maggie Hassan’s signing the New Hampshire law), our buffer zone law is unenforceable. Yes, unanimous: even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg knew a stinker when she saw one.

From the McCullen decision: “Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on…streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi­tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.” Eventually, a court ordered the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pay more than $1 million to the attorneys for the pro-lifers whose First Amendment rights had been violated.

Buffer zone supporters in New Hampshire like to point out that the law only allows restriction of use of public spaces within 25 feet of an abortion facility. Funny thing, though: the size of a zone, whether 25 feet or half a mile, was irrelevant to the Court’s decision.

Recall a 2014 letter from the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union (now known as ACLU-NH): “Simply put, embodied within the First Amendment is the principle that occasionally being exposed to messages with which one disagrees is the necessary price we pay to live in a free and open society.” NHCLU was talking about a proposed anti-chalking ordinance in Keene. One would think the same principle would apply to peaceful witness outside abortion facilities – yet NHCLU lobbied in favor of the buffer zone law. Go figure.

Seven pro-lifers went to federal court to challenge the buffer zone law shortly after it was passed. A judge eventually ruled that since no abortion facility had yet posted a zone, there was nothing to litigate. Almost 8 years later, the situation remains unchanged.

Pass HB 1625. Repeal the buffer zone law.

The list of sponsors for HB 1625 shows an impressive team of veterans as well as first-termers: Reps. Niki Kelsey (R-Bedford), Hershel Nunez (R-Pelham), Tim Baxter (R-Seabrook), Linda Gould (R-Bedford), Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), Maureen Mooney (R-Merrimack), Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), Mark Pearson (R-Hampstead), Vanessa Sheehan (R-Milford), and Sens. Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford), Gary Daniels (R-Milford), and Kevin Avard (R-Nashua).

9 a.m.: HB 1181-FN, allowing the biological father of an unborn child to petition the court for an injunction prohibiting the biological mother from having an abortion

The text of HB 1181 runs to four pages plus an indeterminate fiscal note. I am skeptical that it’ll fly, even as a vehicle for challenging Supreme Court abortion precedents. (Dobbs will carry that freight this year.) Sponsors: Reps. Jeffrey Greeson (R-Wentworth) and Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont).

10 a.m.: HB 1477-FN, prohibiting abortions after detection of fetal heartbeat

With multiple efforts pending to gut New Hampshire’s new 24-week abortion restriction, six House reps are putting time and effort into trying to pass a heartbeat bill, which would put the de facto restriction closer to six weeks. HB 1477 would prohibit abortions once a heartbeat is detected in the preborn child, with an exception for danger to the life of the mother or to prevent a serious risk to the mother of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.

If anyone throws the word “extremism” around in association with this bill, I invite consideration of the extremism that has characterized New Hampshire abortion policy since 1997. Parental notification was a long battle that went to the Supreme Court and required a veto override in 2011. It took another veto override to get a partial-birth-abortion ban in 2012. Abortion statistics bills have been stymied by abortion advocates who want the public kept in the dark. The Fetal Life Protection Act, a 24-week limit, has prompted a multimillion-dollar media campaign to mischaracterize the law and demonize its supporters. There’s resistance to anything that moves New Hampshire away from being a state that welcomes abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. That’s extremism.

Whether a heartbeat bill is wisdom or folly, it’s a refusal to be silenced by abortion absolutists. That alone might attract some votes.

Sponsors: Reps. David Testerman (R-Franklin), Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry), Gail Sanborn (R-Rumney), Terry Roy (R-Deerfield), and Jeffrey Greeson (R-Wentworth).

Thursday, February 10: repealing Fetal Life Protection Act, putting abortion into the NH Constitution, access to “abortion care”

9 a.m.: CACR 18, relating to reproductive medical decisions

The last time abortion advocates tried to enshrine abortion in the New Hampshire Constitution, they poked a bear, and the bear won. Now, they’re back, feeling confident after months of expensive messaging against the Fetal Life Protection Act. Here’s CACR 18, where “CACR” refers to a constitutional amendment:

“Are you in favor of amending the first part of the constitution by inserting after article 2-b a new article to read as follows:…The right to make personal reproductive medical decisions is inviolate and fundamental to the human condition. Neither the State nor any political subdivision shall infringe upon or unduly inconvenience this right.”

No, I’m not in favor, and I’m going to make sure the members of the Judiciary Committee know it.

This is not about “personal reproductive medical decisions.” This is about abortion, forcing you and me to pay for it, and ensuring that no conscience protections will exist for Granite State medical professionals who refuse to be complicit in the direct intentional taking of human life.

Sponsors (and I see that not even one abortion-friendly Republican could be prevailed upon to sign on): Reps. Amanda Toll (D-Keene), Timothy Smith (D-Manchester), Sherry Frost (D-Dover), Rebecca McWilliams (D-Concord), Nicole Klein-Knight (D-Manchester), Joshua Query (D-Manchester), Manny Espitia (D-Nashua), Chuck Grassie (D-Rochester), and Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham). Another sponsor, Stephanie Hyland of Francestown, resigned her House seat in late January.

10 a.m.: HB 1674, relative to reproductive rights

HB 1674, styled by its sponsors an “abortion care act,” “provides that the state shall not restrict a woman’s exercise of her private decision to terminate a pregnancy except as provided in RSA 329:44 [the Fetal Life Protection Act] and RSA 132:32 – 132:36 [parental notification].”

In other words: there might be a 24-week abortion limit, but don’t even think of making it 23 or 22 or 21, and don’t try to regulate dispensation of abortion drugs, and definitely don’t even think of requiring an abortion provider to have medical credentials.

That’s another big Nope from me.

Sponsors: Reps. Alexis Simpson (D-Exeter), Megan Murray (D-Amherst), Lucy Weber (D-Walpole), Mark Page (D-Exeter), Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), Jerry Knirk (R-Freedom), Mary Hakken-Phillips (D-Hanover), Jacqueline Chretien (D-Manchester), Karen Ebel (D-New London), and Sens. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka (D-Portsmouth), Rebecca Whitley (D-Hopkinton), and Suzanne Prentiss (D-West Lebanon).

1 p.m.: HB 1673-FN, repealing the Fetal [Life] Protection Act

I get a twinge of amusement from a bill that fails to name correctly the law it’s trying to repeal. The statutory reference number in HB 1673 is to the Fetal Life Protection Act, which this repeal bill calls the Fetal Health Protection Act. But in any case, this bill has the virtue of brevity, even if its substance is undesirable: this bill may be known as the women’s health privacy act, and the Fetal [Life] Protection Act is hereby repealed.

The chief sponsor , Rep. Marjorie Smith of “there is no such thing as an abortion up until birth” fame, is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The bill’s co-sponsors are Reps. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), Alexis Simpson (D-Exeter), Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham), Amanda Toll (D-Keene), Cam Kenney (D-Durham), Amanda Bouldin (D-Manchester), Katherine Rogers (D-Concord), Kate Murray (D-New Castle), and Sens. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua), Rebecca Whitley (D-Hopkinton), and Tom Sherman (D-Rye).

What you can do about these bills – starting right now

Sign in electronically before the hearing.

For each of these bills, you can record your opinion online anytime before the hearing, even days in advance. On the General Court website, go to the page “online testimony submission” – and even if you have no written testimony to submit, SIGN IN to register your support or opposition to a bill. You’ll need to fill in one bill at a time, submit the form, and then go back to the Online Testimony Submission page and fill it out again for the next bill for which you want to register an opinion.

Why is this important? First, it lets the committee know what you think, in the easiest possible format for you. Second, the number of people signing in online makes a big impression. At a recent life issue bill – another attempt to repeal FLPA – a thousand people signed in “opposed,” while sixteen hundred people signed in “support.” Those numbers hit the media, and they will sway some legislators.

Screenshot of House Online Testimony Form. Note that you can simply sign “support” or “oppose” without uploading any written testimony.

Submit written testimony before the hearing.

If you have a statement to make, but you can’t attend the hearing, this is your chance to go public. You can submit testimony using the same Online Testimony Submission form mentioned above. On Step 4 of the electronic form, you can upload your written testimony in PDF format only.

What you submit online will be available for public viewing. Your personal story may be the one that reaches someone who’s wavering on the defense of human life.

Attend the hearing.

If you can’t attend a full day of hearings, you can come for part of the day. I have responsibilities that will keep me from being in Reps Hall for all of two days, but any appearance is better than none. Here’s where you can hand in written testimony that’s not in electronic form; hand it to anyone at the committee table and that person will be sure to get it to the committee clerk.

You will sign in using a “pink card,” which is what House committees use to keep track of who testifies. Those will probably be available on tables outside Reps Hall. Fill one out for each bill and hand the cards to anyone at the committee table. You’ll need to give your name, town, whether you support or oppose the bill, and whether you wish to speak.

You do not have to give spoken testimony. If you feel nervous about that, watch and listen as others testify. That’ll give you a sense of what it’s like, and maybe next time you’ll be confident about stepping up to the mic.

If you have a chance to speak, you will probably have a limit of three minutes. Be clear, brief, and courteous. Don’t just read your written testimony (committees hate that); summarize it by speaking about the strongest points. And here’s my tip from a few decades of experience as a lobbyist: if you are speaking AND submitting written testimony, don’t hand in your written testimony until AFTER you speak. The reps should be looking at you when you speak, not scanning a paper you gave them.

Abortion statistics, 2022: House committee takes up HB 1654

I was too late for the hearing, but it’s not too late to email the committee: HB 1654-FN is this year’s version of an abortion statistics bill, and it will soon get a vote in the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs (HHS) Committee.

The text of HB 1654 might or might not win over longtime opponents of stats bills. It provides for confidentiality for patients and providers alike, which has sometimes been a sticking point in earlier stats bills. It calls for reporting of aggregate data, not personally-identifying information.

A brief encouraging email to House HHS is in order, asking for an Ought to Pass recommendation on HB 1654. You can reach all committee members with a single email to HHSEA@leg.state.nh.us.

At least nine bills have been introduced since 2002 calling for New Hampshire to collect abortion statistics. The Centers for Disease Control accepts abortion data from almost every state in order to produce an occasional report on the number of abortions nationwide. New Hampshire is one of very few states that decline to participate.

Sponsors of HB 1654: Reps. Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), Kurt Wuelper, (R-Strafford), Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), James Spillane (R-Deerfield), Linda Gould (R-Bedford), and Betty Gay (R-Salem), and Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead).

2019 was when the last abortion statistics bill failed to pass. One of the members of House HHS who is still on the committee, Rep. Joseph Schapiro (D-Keene), said at that time, “It’s hard for me to separate statistics from a movement to make abortion more restricted.”

Try, sir.

House committee deflects attack on Fetal Life Protection Act

HB 1609, an attempt by six 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 six other Republicans who introduced HB 1609. The Governor apparently sides with those six.

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.

Post edited to correct number of co-sponsors.