Anticipating Senate vote, Sununu says he’d veto buffer zone repeal

According to Union Leader State House reporter Kevin Landrigan, Governor Chris Sununu has said he would veto the buffer-zone repeal bill if it reaches his desk. That bill, HB 1625, is scheduled for a Senate vote on Thursday, May 5. I’ll be watching to see if normally pro-life and pro-First-Amendment senators vote against the bill after they’ve heard the veto threat.

The report follows Sununu’s remarks earlier this week in the wake of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion in the Dobbs case that he remains “pro-choice.” On his official website, he has posted the following statement: “As a pro-choice governor, I am committed to upholding Roe v. Wade, which is why I am proud of the bipartisan bill headed to my desk this year that expands access. So long as I am governor, these health care services for women will remain safe and legal.”

The “bipartisan” bill to which Sununu was referring is HB 1609, which adds a eugenics exception to the Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA), New Hampshire’s recently-enacted 24-week abortion limitation.

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.”

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.