Remembering Jack Kenny

Jack Kenny succumbed to cancer a few days ago. He was a Manchester journalist with broad interests, astringent opinions, and an abiding devotion to the most vulnerable human beings among us. He wrote and spoke in defense of the unborn at every opportunity.

“There are no words to adequately describe the horror of babies being butchered in, or partially out of, their mothers’ wombs. That ‘abortion rights’ have become a cornerstone of the ‘feminist movement’ is not only a crime against God and humanity, it is an intolerable slander against women.(Jack Kenny, Manchester Union Leader, January 24, 1999)

A couple of years ago, Jack invited me to be a guest on his Manchester Community TV show to talk about 40 Days for Life. The opening segment was a current-events monologue from Jack, as was customary. I forget whom he was raking over the coals at the time. I do recall that he was in fine form, working without notes. He was a deadeye shot with his words.

Then he introduced me and began asking about 40 Days for Life, and the lion became a pussycat. 40DFL is all about striving for an end to abortion, meeting violence and injustice with prayer and peaceful witness. Jack was always willing to help get the word out about that.

A classic columnist

Longtime readers of the Union Leader will recall his days as a columnist there. A quarter of a century ago he held his own with editors and writers who made every UL opinion page crackle. He did his keenest work when he wrote about abortion, its effect on public policy, and the people who were on the front lines, pro and con.

“…the right to life is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a hell of a subject for neutrality.” (Kenny, UL, 9/13/98)

He once wrote about a Labor Day breakfast at which then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen was featured speaker. A Catholic priest was honored at the event for his work promoting social justice. Jack raised an eyebrow. “If you think this is ‘single-issue’ fanaticism, ask yourself this: Would [the monsignor] share a platform with someone who advocated racial discrimination or espoused anti-Semitism?…Yet Gov. Shaheen supports, promotes and defends as a ‘right’ the killing of preborn babies. No problem. Organized labor doesn’t care and the monsignor pretends not to notice.”

I like to say that “pro-life” isn’t spelled G-O-P, but Jack was beating that drum long before I joined the band. He was driven to distraction by Republicans who failed to highlight their electoral opponents’ abortion extremism. In his columns, he unhesitatingly called out abortion-friendly Republicans. When Republican majorities in Concord failed to pass parental notification legislation, he heaped scorn where it needed to be heaped, and he didn’t let up until a parental notification law was firmly in place.

Long after his days as a regular UL columnist were over, he kept up a stream of letters to the editor, playing familiar themes. From 2019: “I know some will say abortion is not an issue in local elections, but people who do not respect the right to life may not be reliable on other issues, either. The pro-abortion forces seem to think it worth the effort to promote their culture of death candidates in local and state as well as in federal elections. Too many pro-life candidates fail to defend their position for life, leaving many voters as uninformed at the end of the election campaign as they were at the beginning.”

A persistent reporter

Back in the 1990s, “Optima Health” was big news. It was an attempt to link Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center with Elliot Hospital. One of the rocks on which that venture foundered was the revelation of a scheduled abortion at the Elliot, contravening assurances that such things wouldn’t happen under Optima. It was a complex and lengthy story. While all this was going on, Jack wrote about the people who risked jail and loss of livelihood to raise alarms about the danger Optima posed to CMC’s Catholic identity.

“Many ensnared by Optima’s web of deceit” appeared under Jack’s byline in May of 1998. It was written by a professional journalist who patiently worked to untangle the skeins of the story. At the same time, it was commentary with a definite attitude, written by a man who saw good people being given a hard time for doing the right things.

“And it all started because Optima had scheduled a ‘procedure’ its officials were telling the public was not being, and would not be, performed at either of its Manchester hospitals. Unfortunately, some honest and conscientious people have been caught up in Optima’s web of deceit.”

I recall another late-’90s incident that would have been a one-day story if Jack hadn’t helped to keep it out in the open. Pro-lifers were demonstrating peacefully one evening outside a fundraising event for an abortion advocacy group; the Portsmouth police got involved; arrests and a broken wrist ensued. Jack whipped out his pencil and started asking questions of the relevant parties, leading to “Content or conduct: just what upset Portsmouth police?” and “Portsmouth heroic police make protesting perilous.”

“The right to peacefully assemble and protest belongs as much to those protesting abortion as anyone else. Or at least it used to. It can hardly be surprising if a society that no longer respects the right to life becomes indifferent to other rights as well.”

A lighter side

For all his righteous indignation, he had a sense of humor, and he knew how to aim it at himself.

“I regard [a certain Manchester politician] as a good Republican conservative, notwithstanding her support of George W. Bush for President and her fondness for such Modernist heresies as the notion that a ‘qualified’ woman should umpire professional baseball games. I reject, however, her recent assertion that I have a ‘Cro-Magnon mind.’ Flattery will get her nowhere. My mind is orthodox Neanderthal and I intend to keep it that way.”

His faith

Politics might have been a passion, but Jack knew that his Creator transcended such matters.

A few years ago, the long-shuttered St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Nashua was revived as a parish where the Latin Mass could be celebrated daily. At the very first Mass there, the place was packed with worshippers. There were old-timers from the days when St. Stan’s had been the ethnic parish in the neighborhood. There were people like me who were curious about the Latin Mass. And then there were the people already familiar with the traditional rite, praying with joy, very much at home. Jack was one of those people.

I hardly recognized him when he sat down near me. I had never seen his face in such repose. He had left his political indignation outside the door in order to put himself at the foot of the Cross.

I trust that in God’s mercy, Jack is now surrounded by the innocent souls he defended so ardently. May his repose be complete.


Jack’s obituary requests that memorial donations be made to Pennacook Pregnancy Center, 657-B Chestnut Street, Manchester NH 03104, or St. Benedict Abbey, PO Box 67, Still River MA 01467. I’ll venture to suggest that time at a 40 Days for Life vigil would be appropriate, too.

An abortion agenda for NH

The New Hampshire Women’s Foundation counts “abortion rights” among its interests. One of the Foundation’s recent publications lists “Post-Roe policy priorities in New Hampshire,” with footnoted credit to the New Hampshire Abortion Access Coalition.

I take no credit for being psychic, but I called a few of these the day the Dobbs decision came down. You probably did, too. Remember, Dobbs did not recognize a right to life.

The following list of “post-Roe policy priorities” should inspire an interesting Q&A session with your local candidates for state rep and state senator. Any candidate not committed to resisting these “priorities” will be a candidate who advances them.

  • “Pass proactive legislation to enshrine the right to access abortion in New Hampshire.” Translation: codify unlimited abortion via statute.
  • “Amend New Hampshire’s Constitution to enshrine the right to access abortion in New Hampshire.” Codify unlimited abortion via constitution – and possibly by misuse of our constitution’s privacy amendment.
  • “Repeal current abortion restrictions.” New Hampshire has exactly three statutory regulations on abortion: parental notification, a ban on partial-birth abortion (i.e. killing a child after the child is partially delivered from the mother’s body), and a 24-week limit with a eugenic-abortion exception. Goodbye to all that, if the Foundation has its way.
  • “Address disparities in abortion care based on geographic location, including for abortion later in pregnancy.” Watch out for regulatory (executive, administrative) action on this in addition to statutory action. Open more abortion facilities? Force hospitals to provide the direct intentional termination of human life late in pregnancy? Whatever it takes, I suppose.
  • “Support policies to ensure abortion and abortion-related care is covered for all patients, regardless of insurance.” Translation: force taxpayers to subsidize abortion via Medicaid. Again, watch for regulations that do what statutes can’t.
  • “Increase the number of providers who offer abortion care.” Here’s one way: make health care providers see the intentional termination of human life as a normal medical procedure, and then stigmatize and sanction providers who push back.
  • “Defeat anti-abortion legislation in the State House.” Translation: keep doing everything the abortion advocacy movement has been doing in New Hampshire since 1997. A sampler: oppose conscience protections for health care providers; challenge the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses; fight informed consent and statistics-reporting requirements for abortion; promote discrimination against people with disabilities by promoting eugenic abortion; make sure that infants who survive attempted abortion are not protected under law.

The state primary election this year is September 13. The time to find out where your local candidates stand is now. And an “R” next to your candidate’s name is not an answer.

NH abortion stats (and lack thereof) in the news

A front-page news item in one of New Hampshire’s best-known media outlets underscores something readers of this blog have known all along: reliable, objective abortion statistics are hard to come by in the Granite State.

The New Hampshire Sunday News for July 31 had a front-page article by Michael Cousineau headlined “NH clinics, foes weigh impact of Roe v. Wade reversal.” (The full article is available online but might be paywalled.) In the course of writing the piece, the reporter prefaced information supplied by New Hampshire abortion providers with a necessary qualifier: “Getting information on the number of abortions in New Hampshire and demographics about those patients is difficult. New Hampshire is one of only three states (along with California and Maryland) that don’t compile and report such statistics to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

He quoted Jason Hennessey of New Hampshire Right to Life. “It’s a vital statistic, just like births and deaths. It’s a number we should be keeping track of like 47 other states do.”

This is one policy initiative that needs to keep coming back to the General Court until legislators finally get it right. With or without Dobbs and Roe, the collection of objective abortion statistics and distribution of aggregated data is essential as a matter of public health. Women’s health. Self-reporting by abortion providers is a lousy basis for public policy.

I think we’re up to nine stats bills that have failed in New Hampshire since 2002. Any policymaker who wants to look at past efforts should start with the best one, HB 629 from 2015-16, when the study committee headed by Rep. Bill Nelson did the deepest dive to date on the technical aspects of stats collection. That bill got past the House on a voice vote but died on a tie vote in the Senate; I reported at the time on that disappointment.

Enough already. Let’s get a stats law.

More from House calendar, week of March 15

The New Hampshire House will meet on Tuesday, March 15, for what may turn into a three-day session given the number of bills on the calendar. I’ve written about some bills passing through the Judiciary Committee, as well as a conscience bill out of Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs. Those bill’s are on the week’s agenda.

Identify and contact your representatives

For any or all of these bills, you can contact your representatives before Tuesday’s session. Email is quick, but it’s also the most common. Most reps will get more than a thousand emails this week. Make your point in the subject line: identify yourself as a constituent when you write to your own reps, cite the bill number, and include “please vote [ITL for inexpedient to legislate or OTP for ought to pass].” As an example, in emailing my own reps about buffer zone repeal, I’d make the subject line “[name of town] resident, please vote OTP on HB 1625.” The legislators might not have time to read more than that. That’s what happens when several hundred bills come up in the same week.

Conscience protection for medical professionals, HB 1080

The recommendation from the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee is Ought to Pass (OTP) on HB 1080, protecting medical professionals who choose not to participate in abortion, sterilization, or artificial contraception services. The vote was 11-10 along party lines with Republicans in the majority, so there will certainly be a debate on the House floor. Voting Ought to Pass on conscience protections ought to be easy, but this bill faces stiff opposition.

Putting abortion into the NH Constitution, CACR 18

CACR 18 is a proposed amendment to the New Hampshire constitution “providing that the state shall not infringe or unduly inconvenience the right of reproductive medical decisions.” “Inconvenience”??? Even the Judiciary Committee with its abortion-friendly majority was taken aback by this one. The committee recommendation is Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). The House ought to agree. Because this is a proposed constitutional amendment, a two-thirds OTP vote by the full House will be necessary to advance it. A high bar, for sure, but take nothing for granted. Push for the ITL.

Heartbeat bill, HB 1477

HB 1477 would prohibit abortion in most cases after detection of a fetal heartbeat. Judiciary Committee recommendation: ITL on an 11-10 vote with one Republican joining Democrats to make the difference. In order to pass HB 1477, the House needs to overturn the committee recommendation and then vote OTP.

Buffer zone repeal, HB 1625

I’ve written at length about this bill and the deeply flawed report from the Judiciary Committee that recommended “inexpedient to legislate.” My own recommendation: overturn the committee report, and vote Ought to Pass on HB 1625, repealing New Hampshire’s unenforced buffer zone law that seeks to discourage peaceful prolife witness outside abortion facilities.

Gutting the Fetal Life Protection Act, HB 1673

This one is similar to HB 1609, which regrettably has already passed the House. New Hampshire’s Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA), a 24-week abortion restriction, has been in effect only a short time. HB 1673 as passed by the Judiciary Committee would render it meaningless. The committee’s recommendation on an 11-10 vote is “ought to pass with amendment” (amendment #2022-0730h), a version that would weaken FLPA. The House ought to overturn that recommendation and instead vote for the committee minority’s recommendation to pass the bill with another amendment (#2022-0688h) that simply clarifies FLPA’s ultrasound provision. In brief: support the minority report on HB 1673.

The sponsors of HB 1673 revealed their intentions in the original version of the bill, calling it a repeal of FLPA. Now, the chief sponsor has put her name on the majority’s amendment. It would apparently serve her purpose. ‘Nuff said.

“Relative to reproductive rights,” HB 1674

Judiciary has recommended ITL on an 11-8 vote. The committee got this one right. HB 1674 would establish that NH “shall not restrict or interfere with an individual’s exercise of their private decision to terminate a pregnancy” except as already provided in law. This is meant to prevent New Hampshire from enacting new abortion regulations even if the Supreme Court kicks Roe to the curb. This one definitely deserves an ITL.

Postscript: fathers’ role in abortions, HB 1181

HB 1181, which would have given biological fathers a right to seek a court injunction to prevent the abortion of their children, was sent to Interim Study by the House earlier this month. This effectively kills the bill. It is not one of the bills on the House calendar for the coming week.

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.”