Amidst an extremely long agenda on the New Hampshire House calendar for next week, buffer zone repeal – HB 1625 – awaits action. The Judiciary Committee on a 12-9 vote is recommending “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL). The full House in its multi-day session will vote on the bill sometime between Tuesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 17.
Identify your representatives by checking the House roster by town. Click on each name to find contact information. As them to overturn the Judiciary Committee’s ITL recommendation on HB 1625, and instead support a motion of “ought to pass” (OTP). You may find that you belong to two districts, and if that’s the case, contact all the representatives listed. If you send email, be sure your subject line is clear, since that may be the only thing a rep has time to read: “From a constituent: please vote OTP on HB 1625.”
Why HB 1625 deserves special attention
There will be other life-issue bills on the House calendar, and I will address those in a separate post. Why single out buffer zone repeal for special attention? Certainly the First Amendment implications are important, but there’s another reason. The committee’s majority report recommending ITL contains two falsehoods. Any representative supporting the ITL recommendation will be embracing them.
I cast no aspersions on Rep. Mark Paige (D-Exeter), who wrote the majority report. He may have depended on unreliable sources. All the more reason to clear up the false information.
New Hampshire’s buffer zone law threatens the right of peaceful pro-life witnesses to be present on public property outside abortion facilities. The law has never been enforced since its 2014 passage. Nevertheless, it remains a stain on our statutes.
No, the buffer zone law was NOT drafted to follow Supreme Court guidelines
From the Judiciary Committee’s minority report, which is printed in the House calendar and may be the only thing most reps read about HB 1625: “…the drafters of our current buffer law carefully crafted it after the [U.S. Supreme] Court decided McCullen, thus with particular knowledge of the constitutional limits of buffer zone laws.”
That is four-alarm nonsense.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley, striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone law on which New Hampshire’s law was based, was handed down on June 26, 2014. (You can read the case itself and my commentary written at the time the case was decided.)
New Hampshire’s buffer zone law was introduced on December 17, 2013, passed by the House in February 2014, passed by the Senate in May 2014, and signed by then-Governor Maggie Hassan on June 10, 2014. That’s 16 days before the Supreme Court handed down McCullen.
The governor and every legislator knew perfectly well that the McCullen case was pending in the Court. They enabled the New Hampshire buffer zone law anyway.
So much for being “carefully crafted” afterMcCullen.
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
The right thing for the committee to do is recommend Ought to Passon 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.
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. (Dobbswill 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.
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.
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.
Faced with a deadline for vacating its borrowed venue, the New Hampshire House ended crossover day by effectively tabling a number of bills including HB 430, buffer zone repeal.
The House met on April 7, 8, and 9 at NH Sportsplex in Bedford, allowing for seating spaced according to current COVID protocols. Friday the 9th was crossover day, the deadline for all bills originating in the House this year to be disposed of one way or another. Leaders in both parties knew in advance that the Sportsplex needed the House to adjourn by early Friday evening in order to accommodate other users of the facility.
The deadline came, with many bills still unaddressed. Result: in the absence of a vote, the unaddressed bills – including buffer zone repeal – will not advance in 2021.
At this writing, the docket for HB 430 lists its status as “miscellaneous.” That’s one way to put it.
Update on HB 430: the New Hampshire House will vote on buffer zone repeal at its next session, on a date to be announced soon. HB 430 was one of 17 calendared bills left hanging when the House ran up against a hard deadline at its borrowed venue in Bedford.
There’s no word yet on when the House will once again meet in Representatives Hall at the State House. Thus far in 2020, the House has met at University of New Hampshire facilities and, most recently, at the Bedford Sportsplex, in order to observe COVID precautions including social distancing.
The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee frowned on the life-issue bills that come before it last week. The full House will meet on Wednesday, February 24 and Thursday, February 25 to vote on the committee’s “Inexpedient to Legislate” (ITL) recommendations.
On three of the bills, the votes were 11-10 on ITL motions, with Republican committee chairman Edward “Ned” Gordon joining the committee’s ten Democrats in the majority.
Usually, overturning a committee report on the House floor is challenging. Most House members don’t have time to research every bill, and so they lean heavily on the brief committee reports printed in the House calendar.
They also lean on two other things: recommendations from party leadership, and messages from constituents. Most of us can’t control the former. You can definitely influence the latter.