Crossover update: FLPA amendments pending; conscience bill and buffer zone repeal heading to Senate

Heading into April with the New Hampshire General Court, three bills are left that affect the Fetal Life Protection Act. Bills on buffer zone repeal and medical conscience rights are moving to the Senate as well.

March 31 marked “crossover,” when all New Hampshire House and Senate bills had to be dealt with in their originating chamber. Next step: hearings in the other chamber, with successful House bills heading to Senate committees and vice versa.

Fetal Life Protection Act

There’s been no more confusing bundle of bills than the multiple attempts to repeal or amend the Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA), New Hampshire’s new 24-week abortion limitation. Post-crossover, there are three bills addressing FLPA, and one of them is not like the others. Don’t blame me for complicating things; I give full credit for that to our honorable elected representatives in Concord.

  • HB 1609, amended to add a fetal-anomaly exception to the fetal life protection act: on its way to the Senate. HB 1609 started out as an attempt by a handful of Republicans to water down FLPA by adding exceptions and eliminating the ultrasound provision which would serve as a way to confirm gestational age. The full House in a close vote passed the bill, but then the bill went back for a second round of House action in the Finance Committee due to the bill’s fiscal note (the “FN” suffix you’ll find if you look for the bill on the General Court website). On March 31, the House adopted a Finance-proposed amendment to add an exception for “fetal abnormalities incompatible with life,” after hearing from a Brookline mother who is pregnant with twins and has been advised by her doctor that one of the twins “will not survive outside the womb and potentially threatens the life of the other [twin].” (See Union Leader, April 1/2, 2022, page 3.) The amendment also clarifies that ultrasound is only required when there’s reason to believe a fetus may be at 24 or more weeks’ gestation. According to the Union Leader coverage, the eugenic abortion exception elicited a positive response from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The March 31 House vote to accept the committee amendment was overwhelming, 319-25, and it was a division vote so that voters can’t see who voted how. A Senate hearing on the bill has not yet been scheduled.
  • HB 1673 as amended in the House: reason to cheer. HB 1673 will have a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 7 at 10:00 a.m. in room 100 of the State House. What you can do: sign in NOW with the Senate Judiciary Committee, before April 7, in support of HB 1673, which the committee will get in the House-amended version. How did HB 1673 get through the House? On a roller coaster. Originally introduced as a bill to repeal FLPA altogether, the full House instead amended the bill – basically re-writing it – to turn it into a clarification of FLPA’s ultrasound language, while leaving the rest of FLPA intact. This excellent move by the House was done on a voice vote, but just a few minutes earlier the House had cast a useful roll call vote when it rejected an attempted amendment offered by abortion advocates. That was a close one: 163-165. On that particular roll call, a Nay vote was a good one.
  • SB 399 as amended in the Senate: cheer again. SB 399 will get a House Judiciary hearing in Representatives Hall at 9:00 a.m. on April 13. What you can do: sign in NOW with the House Judiciary Committee, before April 13, in support of SB 399, which will come to the committee in the Senate-amended version. Unlike the Senate online sign-in form, the House form allows you to attach testimony. This bill mirrors HB 1673 in both its original and amended versions. It started out as an effort to repeal FLPA. It was amended to clarify the FLPA’s ultrasound language. The Senate vote was 14-10, straight party line: all Republicans supported keeping FLPA while clarifying the ultrasound language. No Democrat was willing to support that.

Buffer zone repeal and conscience protections: on to the Senate

HB 1080, protecting medical conscience rights, passed the House by a vote of 175-165. Now, the bill will go to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, date and time TBA.

Likewise, HB 1625, repeal of the buffer zone law, passed the House. I’m delighted that the outrageous committee report on the bill fell flat.The margin of victory was slim: 168-162. Not a single Democrat voted to repeal the unenforceable buffer zone law. Most Republicans did, with eight exceptions. I leave them to their constituents. Next stop for the bill: Senate Judiciary, date and time TBA.

Other bills tabled, unlikely to come back

CACR 18, which would have used the New Hampshire constitution to protect abortion, was tabled by the House on a 175-157 vote. Hooray for anything that derailed this constitutional amendment. It would take a two-thirds vote to take up the measure again (same for the other tabled bills mentioned below), and that’s extremely unlikely.

HB 1477, the heartbeat bill that would have barred abortions after detection of fetal heartbeat, was tabled in the House as well. Vote was 185-143.

Finally, HB 1674, relative to “reproductive rights,” was tabled by a 306-19 House vote – another division vote instead of a roll call, leaving voters at a loss to see who sent this bill to its well-deserved fate. Numbers like that mean that even abortion advocates decided to back away from this measure that could conceivably have allowed a “private right of action” in court against anyone accused of “restrict[ing] or interfer[ing]” with an abortion. Someone praying on a sidewalk, for example? Apparently, the House decided not to find out. Good decision.

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.”

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.

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.