Bullying in Action: How Not to Represent a District

It has to be seen to be believed: a state representative in Pennsylvania posted video of himself harassing peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities. See coverage here, at a link that will not give the rep the satisfaction of inflating his social media stats.

The prospect of such bullying here in New Hampshire is why I keep my phone with its camera handy whenever I’m participating in 40 Days for Life, and it’s why I think it’s a bad idea to witness alone even though I’ve sometimes done so.

The Pennsylvania politician has demonstrated how not to represent a district. That’s between him and the voters, or rather among him and the voters and the advocacy groups that will no doubt be dumping money into his next campaign.

Abby Johnson and the amazing team from And Then There Were None will respond on Friday, May 10 by going to the Pennsylvania facility where the politician performed his antics. They’ll stand with some of the same people berated by the state rep. He has therefore succeeded in intensifying the pro-life presence that so offended him in the first place.

And Then There Were None is calling this event #StandWithAbby, and they are calling on peaceful pro-life witnesses to go to the sidewalks outside their own local abortion facilities between 8 a.m. and noon on May 10.

Don’t think of it as standing with Abby, as stalwart a pro-lifer as she is. Instead, think of it as standing with the people who endured the state rep’s provocation.

From the event announcement:

Let’s stand together across this country on Friday in peaceful unity against the tactics of Rep. Sims and all those who bully prolife people, all those who bully women into abortion, and all those who want to bully our culture into accepting abortion as something good.
On Friday, May 10th, let’s stand together, in solidarity, for LIFE against bullies.
Here’s how: 
When: Friday, May 10, 2019
Time: Between 8am and 12pm
Where: Your local abortion clinic
What: To pray and give peaceful witness
How:   Be prepared to pray quietly (no bullhorns or yelling).                      Bring a Bible to read softly, rosaries, prayer cards, or other things that help you pray. You may make homemade signs to hold. If you do, we suggest writing  #IStandWithAbby or #StandWithAbby on them along with the websites ProLove.com or AbortionWorker.com. You can also find some ideas on what to put on your signs at   CheckMyClinic.org.

Buffer zone repeal House committee vote, 2017

[Update, 2/22/17: the original version of this post listed Rep. Jordan Ulery as absent from the hearing. Rep. Dan Hynes has advised me that Rep. Ulery is no longer on the Judiciary Committee. I regret the error.]

Update, 2/23/17: Well, well, well. Here’s a photo of the official roll call.

The upshot of all those scratched-out checkmarks is 10-7 in favor of “Inexpedient to Legislate” on buffer zone repeal, HB 589. The formal, “official” tally is as follows.

Voting in favor of ITL on HB 589: Reps. Rouillard, Graham (that’s a change from what I heard when the vote was cast), Leavitt, Wall. Horrigan, Berch, Kenison, Keans, DiLorenzo, and Mulligan.

Voting against ITL on HB 589 and therefore supporting peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights: Reps. Hagan, Hopper, Sylvia, Hull, Wuelper, Hynes, and Janvrin.  Continue reading “Buffer zone repeal House committee vote, 2017”

No repeal of buffer zone in 2016

In a repeat of a 2015 vote, the New Hampshire Senate on May 5 refused to endorse repeal of a law permitting abortion facilities to establish buffer zones within which First Amendment activities are barred.

The ought-to-pass motion on the repeal bill, HB 1570, failed on a 12-12 vote. The bill was then tabled.

No votes shifted from 2015’s repeal effort. Continue reading “No repeal of buffer zone in 2016”

Notes from the latest buffer zone repeal hearing

The New Hampshire Senate Health and Human Services committee had to change rooms twice yesterday to find a place with enough seats for the public. About 40 minutes past its scheduled time, the hearing on HB 1570 began, and buffer zone repeal was up for discussion. Will New Hampshire continue to have a law on the books that allows abortion facility operators to determine where and when First Amendment rights may be exercised on public property?

Committee members kept their questions to a minimum, no doubt mindful of the clock. No vote was taken yesterday; action is likely to come soon. There will be a few days’ notice before any Senate floor vote.

In brief, the hearing produced nothing new or shocking. Any information or persuasion that’s going to budge a senator is going to come from private communication. Remember, repeal was tabled after a tie vote in the Senate last year – and remember who voted how.

Here are some notes on this week’s hearing, with my thanks to Jennifer Robidoux who shared her own notes with me after I had to leave the hearing early. This does not mention everyone who testified.

  • Committee members present were Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford), Kevin Avard (R-Nashua), Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), and Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth). Committee member Molly Kelly (D-Harrisville) was absent.  If you wish to contact the committee members to let them know it’s time to pass HB 1570 and get rid of the buffer zone, you should do so soon. Contact information is on the Senate web page. If you send an email, put “yes on HB 1570” or something similar in the subject line.
  • There was no organized demonstration of any kind outside the hearing.
  • There was no testimony from any municipal or law enforcement official.
  • The recent dismissal of the Reddy v. Foster case was mentioned by nearly everyone who testified. Interpretations varied.
  • Rep. J.R. Hoell, chief sponsor of the repeal bill, reminded the senators that the House has voted twice for repeal (2015 and 2016). He said the situation of having an unenforced law like the buffer zone on the books was “silliness at best.”
  • Cathy Kelley, who is outside Planned Parenthood in Manchester every Thursday and who founded Pennacook Pregnancy Center, supported repeal. She defended her right to pray and to talk to people outside PP. She spoke of offering healing after abortion. “That’s compassion. That’s what we’re about.” Sue Clifton testified for repeal as well, remarking on ministry to abortion workers. “We pray for abortion workers. We love them all and we are there to offer help.”
  • Joan Espinola, a plaintiff in Reddy v. Foster, cited both the U.S. and New Hampshire Constitutions to argue for her freedom to be peacefully present outside abortion facilities. “we’re not out to harm anyone….The Constitution doesn’t give protection from unwanted speech.”
  • Fellow plaintiff Jennifer Robidoux pointed out that she is already “buffered” from abortion facility clients by private property (e.g. the stockade fence at the Pennacook Street Planned Parenthood); “this law buffers me from public property.”
  • Two state representatives strongly opposed to repeal made the claim that any zones, should they be enforced, would respect “local control.” (I have already held forth at some length on that point.)
  • Attorney MIchael Tierney, who represented plaintiffs in Reddy v. Foster, told the committee that there are already laws on the books against harassment, blockade, and violence.  About that: I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders why abortion facility managers don’t call on police to enforce those laws – assuming those laws are being violated.
  • Senator Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), as she has done since introducing the buffer zone bill in 2014,  claimed repeatedly that the New Hampshire buffer zone law is substantively different from the Massachusetts law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley, in that the old Massachusetts law set a firm 35-foot zone while the New Hampshire law allows a zone “up to 25 feet.” Senator Soucy makes this claim despite the fact that the Supreme Court did not use zone size as a factor in striking down the Massachusetts law.
  • The our-law-is-different-from-Massachusetts claim was also made to the committee by the representative of Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, Kayla McCarthy. She cited an increased “volume” of protests without giving any details, which she might have submitted to the committee in writing.
  • The New Hampshire Medical Society registered its opposition to buffer zone repeal. So did the New Hampshire Public Health Association, whose spokesman said that the buffer zone law “does not impede protesting in a respectful manner.”

Buffer zone lawsuit dismissed; pro-life witness continues; abortion facilities may attempt to enforce “zones”

In a March 31 order, federal judge Joseph Laplante dismissed the Reddy v. Foster case that challenged a New Hampshire law permitting anti-First Amendment “buffer zones” outside abortion facilities. Laplante ruled that the pro-life plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit, since no zones have been posted since passage of the law in 2014 and therefore no one has been prosecuted to any extent.

Peaceful pro-life witness not otherwise proscribed on public sidewalks and rights-of-way outside abortion facilities in New Hampshire remains protected where no buffer zone is posted. No First Amendment rights were struck down in Laplante’s decision.

A bill to repeal the buffer zone law will get a Senate committee hearing at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, in room 101 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord.

The buffer zone law permits abortion facility operators to post a zone around their facilities of up to 25 feet within which no demonstration, including silent prayer, may take place. The 25-foot zone may include public sidewalks and rights-of-way.

Court: no enforcement = no grounds for litigation

The buffer zone law has been on hold since shortly after the Reddy v. Foster case was filed.  Abortion facility operators, together with the New Hampshire Attorney General and other defendants, either agreed to refrain from enforcement or were ordered by the court to refrain, pending resolution of the case. With the March 31 dismissal, those agreements are dissolved and abortion facility managers are free to post buffer zones.

Laplante’s decision to dismiss the case did not reach the point of addressing First Amendment implications of the law. He found that plaintiffs’ lack of standing to bring the lawsuit was sufficient grounds for dismissal, regardless of other legal issues. “Before the Act can be enforced…one of the clinics must demarcate a zone…[and post] tje appropriate signage,” he noted in his ruling.

Laplante left open the possibility of future litigation in the event any New Hampshire abortion facility establishes a buffer zone. “Once a zone is in place,” wrote Laplante, “[plaintiffs] and others in their position would still have an opportunity to seek injunctive relief….At that time the court would have before it sufficient factual developments to conduct a proper McCullen type of review.”

McCullen v. Coakley was the unanimous 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law.

What now? Some personal observations, not to be confused with legal advice

I am not a lawyer, and this should not be construed as legal advice. Read that line twice. …but as one of many pro-life Granite Staters, this is how I see the dismissal of Reddy v. Foster. Any attorney who finds a serious error here needs to point it out to me.

  • Abortion facilities are still places where peaceful pro-life witness is essential. Lives at all stages are at stake.
  • Peaceful and otherwise legal pro-life witness on public property is not affected around any abortion facility that does not have a posted buffer zone.
  • Where there IS a zone, peaceful witness might or might not trigger enforcement; that’s strictly up to the abortion facility staff.
  • If police are called, and a law enforcement official asks the pro-life witness to knock it off, the pro-life witness who chooses noncompliance runs the risk of being cited for violation of the buffer zone law (among other things). A written warning is supposed to come before a citation. The citation would be for a violation-level offense and carry a minimum fine of $100.
  • By the way, one of the conditions in the Statement of Peace for 40 Days for Life is cooperation with local authorities.
  • A pro-life witness who finds her or his First Amendment rights chilled by enforcement of the buffer zone law, as opposed to the threat of enforcement, should run – not walk – to the nearest attorney with experience in defending the First Amendment rights of pro-life people.
  • I have thought since the law was passed that it’s a good idea for pro-life witnesses to work in pairs. I’m even more convinced of that now. I may have to give up solo 7 a.m. vigil hours during 40 Days for Life.  It makes sense to have multiple pro-life witnesses who can attest to the circumstances surrounding any event or challenge.
  • The biblical admonition to be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves is apt. Be careful as well as prayerful out there.