New NH legislation in sight already

Awaiting 2016 action.
Awaiting 2016 action.

The 2016 legislative session in Concord is twelve weeks away, and already more than 600 legislative service requests have been filed by House lawmakers. (The Senate has yet to be heard from.) These LSRs will evolve into bills, to be added to the ones from earlier this year that are still under consideration, with hearings beginning in January.

The language of the bills has yet to be worked out, and the LSRs have very general titles. Topics thus far include but are not limited to:

  • recognition that life begins at conception – and this one’s being proposed as a state constitutional amendment
  • sale of fetal body parts – presumably a ban on such activity
  • licensing of abortion facilities
  • protection of infants born alive following attempted abortion
  • human trafficking
  • restrictions on mid- and late-term abortion
  • restriction on eugenic abortion
  • public funding of abortion procedures and providers
  • expansion of the death penalty

Fetal homicide legislation will come up, as HB 560 is technically still in a Senate committee. Its prospects are grim, with the failure earlier this year of House and Senate conferees to agree on SB 40, another fetal homicide measure. A mandate to the state to collect abortion statistics may yet make its way out of committee, as HB 629 is still under study. (Another study session, open to the public, is scheduled for October 21 at 11 a.m. in room 205 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord. More on that in a separate post.)

You can bookmark the General Court’s web site for updates on legislation and to get contact information for your representatives. As always, watch this blog for news.

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SCOTUS term is over – but they suspended Texas abortion regs before leaving

Abortion regulation, the HHS/Obamacare contraceptive mandate, and the death penalty got some attention from the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) before the Court’s term ended Monday. The day was somewhat anticlimactic in view of last week’s decision re-defining marriage nationwide.

Justice Anthony Kennedy ( photo)
Justice Anthony Kennedy ( photo)

> New Texas abortion regulations are on hold by order of the Court, pending a full hearing of the case – possibly next term. The vote was 5-4. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with “the Court’s liberals” (Politico’s term, not mine) in the majority.

> In the latest order – again, not a decision – on Obamacare’s insurance-coverage contraceptive mandate, the Court upheld for now a Solomonic decision by the Third Circuit that figuratively splits the baby. A group of Catholic entities in Pennsylvania challenged the mandate. The Third Circuit upheld the mandate, but okayed a mother-may-I procedure for religious entities objecting to it. Whether the Constitution allows mother-may-I is yet to be decided by the top court. I’ll let the legal eagles at SCOTUSblog summarize this one.

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“First, the religious groups must provide some type of notice to the federal Department of Health and Human Services that they want and are entitled to a religious exemption from the mandate.   If the groups do that, the government may not enforce the mandate directly against them, while the Court is pondering whether to review the case itself.

“Second, the women who are employed by or are students at the religious organizations are assured that they will have access, at no cost to them, of birth control methods and devices approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.   The government can go ahead, the Court made clear, and make arrangements for the health insurance plans in effect for the religious groups to assure free access to the contraceptives.  The government will reimburse the cost.

“The Court’s order stressed that it did not mean that the Justices were ruling on the correctness of the Third Circuit decision.   That will be the issue if the Court grants review in the pending case of Zubik v. Burwell (docket 14-1418).”

> This one was a full-blown decision: in Glossip v. Gross, the Court upheld the use of a particular drug for executions. Challengers had claimed it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Among the original petitioners, according to Justice Scalia, was someone convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-month-old baby. I feel nothing but revulsion at that; “cruel and unusual” seems just about right for such a criminal. My opposition to the death penalty, though, doesn’t depend on how lovable the criminal might be.

Justice Stephen Breyer ( photo)
Justice Stephen Breyer ( photo)

I have to wonder whether “humane” execution is designed for the prisoner’s sake or the onlookers’. The less we squirm, the better – is that the idea? Justice Breyer – not a man whose decisions respect any right to life for preborn children – dissented from the Glossip decision, and he apparently didn’t parse the which-drugs-are-better question. He flat-out asked for a briefing on the constitutionality of capital punishment.

This wasn’t the case for that. Apparently, the Court is cautious about overreaching on the death penalty. Their delicacy is amusing in view of their marriage decision. Perhaps I’ll live to see a day when boldness prevails in defense of the right to life.

One step forward, two steps back: this week in other states

State House, Concord NH
What’s going on under other State House domes?

When it comes to life-issue legislation – and bills on most other topics, for that matter – the Granite State seldom breaks new ground. Watch what’s going on in other states, and you’ll have a good idea of what’s coming up in Concord. Here are a few of this week’s notable items.

NEBRASKA: On May 27, legislators repealed the state’s death penalty. They overrode Governor Pete Ricketts’s veto by a 30-19 vote. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.) From the New York Times coverage of the vote: “Opponents of the death penalty here were able to build a coalition that spanned the ideological spectrum by winning the support of Republican legislators who said they believed capital punishment was inefficient, expensive and out of place with their party’s values, as well as that of lawmakers who cited religious or moral reasons for supporting the repeal. Nebraska joins 18 other states and Washington, D.C., in banning the death penalty.”

New Hampshire’s last attempt to repeal the death penalty fell short of passage but gained surprising support from two prominent legislators who had previously been death penalty advocates. One heart at a time …

IDAHO: The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals may or may not be the Circuit with the most decisions later overturned by the Supreme Court, depending on your source, but here’s the latest from those judges for what it’s worth. Today, they overturned Idaho’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Grounds: parts are “unconstitutionally vague,” create an “undue burden,” and “it categorically bans some abortions before viability.” Help yourself to the whole decision.

CALIFORNIA: On May 26, a bill to compel pro-life pregnancy care centers to promote abortions was passed by the California Assembly. It now goes to the state senate. Apparently, abortion providers are having so much trouble appealing to women that they need to enlist privately-funded pregnancy care centers to help with publicity. See coverage in Breitbart and LifeNews.

Pending hearings in MASSACHUSETTS: Closer to home, Massachusetts Citizens for Life says two interesting bills will have hearings at the State House in Boston on June 2. One would lower the age of consent for abortion to 16, eliminating use of the state’s parental notification statute for minors aged 16 and above. The other, strongly supported by MCFL, would amend the definition of “clinic” in the general laws and would require inspection and licensing of non-hospital abortion facilities.

I recall writing two years ago about the statement by a New Hampshire Health and Human Services official that “there is no such thing as an abortion clinic” in our state. Definitions matter. It will be interesting to see how the Massachusetts bill fares.



On pro-life reps, the death penalty, and going six-for-six

When I listed “five-for-five” New Hampshire state representatives in the blog’s pre-primary newsletter, I was referring to votes on five life-issue bills from the 2014 session of the legislature. There’s another bill that I didn’t mention in the newsletter, though, and I should have: HB 1170, repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty. You may recall that the repeal bill passed the House in a shocking vote, before failing on a tie in the Senate.

I’ve explained as best I can why I no longer support capital punishment, but I understand that some of my most committed pro-life colleagues haven’t made that leap. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind today. I’m simply offering another piece of information for concerned voters.

In the recent newsletter, I took note of votes on five life-issue bills (listed below). Sixteen representatives who voted pro-life on all five – no absences, excused or otherwise – will be on the ballot in November. Who among them voted this year to repeal the death penalty, making them six-for-six?

  • Rep. Bill Nelson (R), Carroll County district 5 (Brookfield, Effingham, Ossipee, Wakefield)
  • Rep. David Danielson (R), Hillsborough County district 7 (Bedford)
  • Rep. Robert Rowe (R), Hillsborough County district 22 (Amherst)
  • Rep. Don LeBrun (R), Hillsborough County district 32 (Nashua ward 5)
  • Rep. Frank Kotowski (R), Merrimack County district 24 (Hooksett)
  • Rep. John T. O’Connor (R), Rockingham County district 6 (Derry)
  • Rep. Jeffrey Harris (R), Rockingham County district 9 (Epping)

An exhaustive list of full-spectrum pro-life representatives? No, merely some names worth noting, reflecting six votes this year by consistent, conscientious legislators.

The five 2014 bills and votes I used to evaluate House incumbents running for re-election:

  • HB 1501, strengthening public-health oversight of abortion facilities and requiring providers to have admitting privileges at an area hospital; the pro-life vote was No on “inexpedient to legislate” motion
  • HB 1503, Griffin’s Law, the fetal-homicide bill; more than thirty states have such legislation; the pro-life vote was to support the original language of the bill instead of the House amendment
  • HB 1504, the “All People Created Equal Act”, recognizing that life begins at conception; the pro-life vote was No on “inexpedient to legislate” motion
  • HB 1325, legalizing assisted suicide; the pro-life vote was Yes on “inexpedient to legislate” motion
  • SB 319, establishing a no-silent-prayer “buffer” around abortion facilities; the pro-life vote was No on “ought to pass” motion

Repealing the death penalty: not an easy call

I listened intently online this week as my state legislature voted to repeal the death penalty. It wasn’t close: 225-104. The bill now goes to the state senate. I’m happy with the day’s result, even though it leaves me unsettled.

You see, I lobby for pro-life bills, not including capital punishment, on which my employer takes no position. A number of the legislators who dependably cast votes recognizing the right to life for preborn children do not recognize such a right for death-row inmates. By being against the death penalty, even as a private individual, I recognize with regret that I offend some of those legislators without winning over others who defend abortion and consider me “anti-choice.”  From a pragmatic point of view, my decision to speak out against the death penalty was asinine.

I don’t regret writing about repealing capital punishment, but I’m sure glad I didn’t do it to please anyone. I would have misfired badly.

This week’s debate in the New Hampshire House was beyond heartfelt. Gut-felt, is more like it.

The chief sponsor of the repeal bill, Rep. Renny Cushing, has a calm manner which paradoxically makes his arguments particularly compelling. His father was murdered some years ago, so no one can accuse him seriously of not understanding the grief and anger of families of murder victims. He has worked for years for repeal of our state’s rarely-invoked capital punishment law. His experience and the calm authority with which he told his colleagues “New Hampshire can live without the death penalty” kept the words from sounding like a trite slogan.

On the other hand, his colleagues who want to retain the death penalty were not so calm. They were angry and indignant. Some of them are cherished defenders of the rights of the preborn.

Rep. Jeanine Notter, for example. She’s one of my town’s state reps. She has sponsored legislation to promote women’s health by increasing public oversight of abortion facilities and stiffening informed-consent requirements. She’s also a determined advocate for the death penalty for heinous crimes. She went to the well and sharply spoke to her colleagues about the murder of Kimberly Cates and the attempted murder of Mrs. Cates’s daughter. No one who lived in New Hampshire in 2009 and was old enough to comprehend news reports will ever forget the horror of that crime. Jeanine reminded the House of every horrendous detail. The murderers are now serving life sentences. There was public outrage that the death penalty didn’t apply at that time to home invasions (the law has since been changed). For Jeanine, justice and fairness dictate that such killers deserve to get what they dished out to their victims.

What can I say to her? I know where she is on this, and she knows where I am – and we agree to disagree, unable as yet to bridge the gulf.

Then there’s Rep. Al Baldasaro, who tackles bills like the Marine he is (I dare not say “was,” since he once told me there’s no such thing as an “ex”-Marine). He spoke with an anger that came through clearly to me across the audio stream. “We have fifty million dead babies, and we’re concerned about capital punishment?” He knew perfectly well that some of the strongest advocates of repealing the death penalty are some of the most reliable votes against any bill to regulate abortion. Baldasaro could see that contradiction perfectly clearly.

He sees no contradiction in his abortion and capital punishment views. He sees innocent life vs. guilty criminals. So many supporters of repeal – including Rep. Cushing, judging from his voting record – see no contradiction between protecting women’s “right to choose” and eliminating state-sponsored killing.

I do see contradictions. But there’s a huge void between what I see and my ability to explain it.

One interesting if protracted speech today came from the pro-choice Rep. Steve Vaillancourt. Erroneous capital convictions haunt him. So does repeal without retroactivity. He tried to amend the repeal bill so that it would commute the death sentence of Michael Addison, New Hampshire’s sole death row inmate. He said if repeal is passed without applying to Addison, it would be like serving a meal to the whole community except for the one person “living under the bridge.” He’s right.

That’s how I feel about abortion-related bills with rape-and-incest exceptions. Lots of babies under that particular bridge. That hasn’t stopped me from supporting things like the Hyde Amendment, even with its exceptions.

His amendment failed in a lopsided vote. Everyone in the chamber knew that the governor has said she’ll sign the bill as long as it’s not retroactive. And so it’s not a “clean” bill. Someone will mutter “hypocrisy.” More hard feelings.

It was balm to my ears to hear the words of Rep. Robert Rowe, who spoke late in the debate. Pro-life across the spectrum, Rowe got his law degree about fifty years ago. He has never forgotten a case study from his student days, involving an erroneous conviction. “We can always restore freedom. We can’t restore life.” It was impossible for me to tell, listening from a distance, if anyone was still listening to the debate at that point. Late in the day, during lengthy debate, attention wanders. I sometimes wonder if the later speeches change anyone’s mind. I hope Rep. Rowe’s remarks did.

Rep. Cushing closed out the debate by saying, “If we let those who kill turn us into killers, evil triumphs.” A few moments later, the House voted overwhelmingly for repeal – a decisive victory by any reasonable measure.

Yet I can’t help but think of the 104 representatives in the minority. I look at the roll call and see many names of compassionate defenders of innocent life. They offer nonviolent options to pregnant women, they fight to make abortion providers accountable for long-term outcomes to women’s health, they fight for the right of the babies to be born. They make the world a better place. When it comes to the death penalty, though, we’re far apart. And I’m the one who moved, after too many years of hesitation.

What can I do to reach across the divide?