Three reasons for Governor Sununu to sign buffer zone repeal

After protracted debate, including attempts to attach two non-germane amendments, the New Hampshire Senate has passed the buffer zone repeal bill, HB 1625. The vote was 12-11, in spite of Governor Chris Sununu’s veto threat. Twelve of 14 Republicans voted to pass the bill. While the bill’s docket hasn’t yet been updated with the official roll call, news reports indicate that Sen. Hennessey (R-Littleton) voted with the chamber’s ten Democrats, and Sen. Reagan (R-Deerfield) was absent.

The Governor has not detailed his reasons for opposing buffer zone repeal. Perhaps it’s tied up with a wish to look more “pro-choice,” a label he wears with pride. In any case, his determination to veto the bill flies in the face of a written commitment he made in 2016. (More about that later.)

He can still do the right thing and sign HB 1625. He has good reasons to do so. You can call his office at (603) 271-2121 with a quick message, or email him with longer comments.

The Supreme Court’s McCullen decision

One would think that the Governor’s legal team might have read McCullen v. Coakley, but I am beginning to have my doubts.

There is such a thing as a “constitutional” buffer zone law, in the eyes of U.S. Courts. New Hampshire’s law isn’t one of them. It is modeled on the Massachusetts buffer zone law that was thrown out by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court – yes, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – back in 2014’s McCullen case, days after the New Hampshire law was signed by then-Governor Hassan.

The Massachusetts law was thrown out on narrow grounds, which happen to apply to our situation in New Hampshire. In an effort to accommodate abortion providers who didn’t want pro-life witnesses outside their facilities, Massachusetts had failed to enforce more targeted and less restrictive laws before going after the pro-lifers’ First Amendment free-speech rights. Here’s Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court: “Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth 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.

“Without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives” is exactly where New Hampshire stands. It’s exactly why New Hampshire abortion providers have never yet posted a buffer zone. There is no record with any law enforcement agency of repeated arrests, never mind convictions, of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities. It would require such a record to justify infringement of First Amendment rights.

Again, Chief Justice Roberts: “To meet the requirement of narrow tailoring, the government must demonstrate that alterna­tive measures that burden substantially less speech would fail to achieve the government’s interests, not simply that the chosen route is easier. A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.”

Whether using a painted line as in Massachusetts or a printed sign as prescribed in New Hampshire’s law, McCullen applies.

The cost of litigation

After Massachusetts lost the McCullen case, the pro-life plaintiffs quite reasonably sought to recover their legal fees. A settlement agreement reached six months after the Supreme Court decision resulted in Massachusetts having to pay up, to the tune of $1.24 million. That’s on top of whatever the Commonwealth spent in the years-long effort to win its case.

Governor Sununu is steward of the New Hampshire treasury. I doubt defending a McCullen-style law is what he means to do with your tax dollars. It would be much wiser to get the McCullen-style law out of New Hampshire statutes.

Sununu’s 2016 commitment to support buffer zone repeal

Perhaps even more persuasive than the preceding two reasons is the third one, which speaks to the Governor’s character.

When Chris Sununu first ran for governor in 2016, pro-life voters were concerned. Like the Democrat on the ballot, he called himself “pro-choice.” After hearing from concerned Republicans, the message went out a few days before the November election that there were a few policies he could support. One of them was repeal of the buffer zone law. He put that in writing.

I provided his statement in a post in November 2016: A concerned Republican and Sununu’s reply

In the same message, he said he could support a late-term abortion ban. He did so when he signed last year’s budget, which contained the Fetal Life Protection Act – and now he intends to walk that back, by announcing his intention to sign HB 1609 adding a post-24-week eugenic exception to FLPA.

It’s possible that as a popular governor with a lot of political capital to spend, he has decided to repudiate his 2016 statement. Maybe his political calculus does not take pro-lifers into account. Maybe he thinks we’re politically negligible.

Are you willing to prove him wrong?

Remember: (603) 271-2121. Second floor of the State House, if you want to deliver a written message to the reception staff. Use that “share your opinion” page on his website. Get some friends together and write postcards, addressed to the Governor at 107 North State Street, Concord NH, 03301. Cite one reason for him to sign HB 1625, or cite all three, or simply say “please sign buffer zone repeal.”

Governor Sununu is listening to abortion advocates. He needs to be listening to his own better nature – the one he gave us a glimpse of in 2016.

post header photo: Scott Graham/Unsplash

Pro-life policies in state budget: victory with an expiration date (UPDATED)

Update, 7/8/21: I am indebted to an attorney well-versed in pro-life policy who called me out on claiming that the language cited below would expire in two years. Instead, I’ll try for more clarity: it’s possible that it might not survive the next budget process. More about that below, in boldface.

For the first time since 1997, New Hampshire has a law limiting late-term abortion. Well, we’ll have one as of next January 1, and it may only be good – I said “may” – until the expiration of the budget on June 30, 2023. Still, after nearly a quarter-century, the Granite State will move ahead past the era of unregulated abortion.

I wondered if flipping the House and Senate would make a difference. Turns out it did.

It has taken me a couple of weeks to process this news. It’s stunning to me, as someone who was an activist even before 1997, to see this victory. Our pro-choice governor kept the word he gave in 2016. Pro-life reps worked to get pro-life language into the budget, after the Senate stalled a freestanding bill that would have done the job. Some pro-life budget conferees – who were Republicans, as it happens – wouldn’t let the provision be tossed out during budget negotiations.

We still don’t have abortion statistics, or a requirement that only medical personnel provide abortions (remember that the next time someone tells you abortion is a private “medical” decision), or conscience protection for health care workers who choose not to participate in the direct intentional termination of human life.

We can bet that the pro-life provisions in this budget will be up for debate and rejection in two years when the next budget is crafted. We can bet that the people promoting unregulated abortion will be fighting back, and in fact are doing so already.

So who wants it more? Do pro-life Granite Staters want to build on this victory?

Continue reading “Pro-life policies in state budget: victory with an expiration date (UPDATED)”

Post-veto, a clarifying moment on Twitter

Yes, Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the odious abortion insurance mandate. I’ve thanked him. I hope readers will do likewise.

Nothing in the veto changes his attitude toward abortion. The veto indicated respect for those who disagree with him, just as it indicated concern that the mandate would have cost the state money. That’s as far as it goes.

Three people came together in a Twitter exchange a few hours after the veto to clear this up for pro-life voters.

First, this from Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord, @DanFeltesNH), who hopes to get the Democratic nomination for Governor this fall. He pitched his customary reproductive-rights spiel. “Despite claiming to be pro-choice, @GovChrisSununu has repeatedly turned his back on reproductive health care access. Today, Sununu sided with insurance companies and the far-right over Granite State women and denied them affordable access to safe, legal abortion. #nhpolitics”

Mere minutes later came this reply from a gentleman working for the Governor’s re-election (@brvihsta), formerly on the Governor’s staff. He helpfully pointed out that Planned Parenthood has not suffered under the Governor’s leadership, despite the fact that he has disappointed them twice in five years (more about that here, under “an interesting anniversary”). “He is pro-choice. The vast majority of insurance plans already cover these services, & all this bill would have done is jeopardized federal funding during a pandemic. @ChrisSununu has brought forward state contracts for Planned Parenthood *every year* as Governor. #nhpolitics”

A state representative (@prudhommeobrien) summed it up well in her reply to Mr. Vihstadt. She does not trash the Governor, nor has she ever done so in my hearing. She is a thoughtful individual. But she does have a habit of calling things as she sees ’em. “I see. So even when he throws pro-lifers a bone, he tries to hit them in the face with it.”

Ouch. But yes.

Gratitude for the veto is a good thing. It’s downright essential, in my book. Acknowledgment of the conscience rights of Granite Staters is always refreshing to see.

Maybe that’ll extend to keeping tax dollars away from abortion providers someday.

Perhaps that’s a conversation to be had on the campaign trail.

Veto! Sununu says no to abortion insurance mandate

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has vetoed a measure to create an abortion-insurance mandate for certain health insurance policies. In his veto message on HB 685, he cited conscience concerns and a potential loss of federal funds if the bill were to become law.

“This bill would risk the States federal healthcare funding in the middle of a pandemic, take away the freedom of choice for those employees and employers who object to being forced to partake in or provide abortion services, and expose the State to expensive litigation. Therefore, the costs and risks of this bill far outweigh its benefits.” (Full statement at this link.)

HB 685’s advocates, citing “parity,” treat abortion as health care. To them, conscience protections are “discriminatory attacks.” They seek to remove abortion-free options for anyone who chooses not to help provide abortions, including insurance providers, business owners who offer health insurance as a benefit to employees, and individuals paying insurance premiums.

HB 685 got to the Governor’s desk after a tortuous legislative process that included stripping an unrelated bill of its language in order to replace it with the abortion insurance mandate. The bill was passed in spite of a House rule barring nongermane amendments. There was no House public hearing on the bill in its amended form.

Overriding the veto would require a two-thirds vote in House and Senate. The House Clerk has announced that the House will have its “Veto Day” on September 16 at UNH’s Whittemore Center in Durham.

Earlier coverage of HB 685: Mandate bill created in rushed process, Clock is ticking on abortion insurance bill

To thank the Governor: (603) 271-2121 or governorsununu@nh.gov

Edited to correct date for House Veto Day.

After one-month delay, clock is ticking on abortion insurance bill

The abortion insurance mandate bill crafted by pro-abortion New Hampshire legislators is finally on Governor Sununu’s desk. HB 685 was passed and entered the enrollment process on June 30. Not until August 5 did the Senate finally sign off on the bill. Governor Sununu now has five business days to act on it.

The Governor’s office phone number is (603) 271-2121. Email is governorsununu@nh.gov. He could act on the bill as early as today.

Five-day countdown after one-month delay

HB 685 entered the enrollment process on June 30 after a rule-bending journey through House and Senate. Enrollment is normally an administrative procedure lasting a few days, involving getting signatures from House and Senate leaders. By delaying sign-off, those leaders can affect the timing of when a bill gets to the Governor.

In the case of HB 685, the Senate was the chokepoint. Senate President Donna Soucy finally did her job and sent the bill to the Governor on August 5. From there, Governor Chris Sununu has five business days to sign or veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature.

The last option – letting it become law without his signature – is no different from signing it outright.

The big lie: “reproductive health parity”

Abortion advocates have titled the mandate a “reproductive health parity” bill. That’s a backhanded acknowledgment of the fact that even among abortion-friendly legislators, the word “abortion” is radioactive.

Don’t be fooled. HB 685 is an abortion bill. It is founded on the false notion that abortion is health care, together with the false notion that “access” means forcing the community as a whole to help procure abortions.

In a press release tweeted out by Senate Democrats, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua) said that HB 685 is essential to “guaranteeing full reproductive health care and reducing barriers for women when making their constitutionally protected decisions.”

No word on whether Senator Rosenwald is interested in repealing the buffer zone law, which was passed in the thus-far-vain hope it would be a barrier for women making constitutionally protected decisions to demonstrate publicly and peacefully outside abortion facilities.

An interesting anniversary

Whether the Senate Democrats intended so or not, their statement on HB 685 comes on the fifth anniversary of then-Executive Councilor Sununu’s surprising vote to deny a state contract to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. In a joyous borderline-intemperate Facebook post that day, I wrote “Can I get a Hell Yeah for Chris Sununu? He courageously voted no on PP contracts, citing need for alternatives for women in his district.”

Why so shocking? Because he had voted to grant earlier PP contracts, and only a few months later, he reverted to supporting PP contracts again.

Coverage in this blog noted more about Sununu’s vote on August 5, 2015.

In the discussion preceding the vote, Sununu said “I’m pro-choice and I support Planned Parenthood, but in my district, women have no [other] choice.” He unsuccessfully urged Hassan and his fellow Councilors to “take a step back” and support a study of health care options in Sununu’s southeastern New Hampshire district. He said he got calls from constituents who wanted family planning services but not at Planned Parenthood. He also expressed concern about activities at other Planned Parenthood affiliates documented in the [Center for Medical Progress] videos [documenting PP commerce in fetal body parts], which were dismissed by Hassan, Van Ostern and Pappas (in identical language) as “heavily edited.” “I’ve watched that video cover to cover with no edits,” said Sununu. “I’m pro-choice, but that’s not the issue here.”

reported in Leaven for the Loaf, 8/5/15

Perhaps the better angels of his nature will prevail again in 2020.