“Access to abortion care” bill in Senate Committee January 31

Do you think that abortion is “vital to the equality and liberty of all individuals”? The sponsors of SB 181-FN think so, and they’ll be in front of the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee this week to make their case. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31, at 2 p.m. in room 100 on the first floor of the State House in Concord.

Let the committee hear from you

You can register your opinion on the bill online anytime before the hearing by using the state senate’s remote sign-in sheet. The Senate provides a sheet of directions for the remote sign-in process. For anyone planning to attend the hearing in person, the Senate guidelines for testifying at a public hearing are useful. If the hearing runs long, as is often the case on life-issue bills, signing in online and submitting written testimony are good ways to let the committee know where you stand, even of you can’t stay at the hearing until its end.

What the bill says

SB 181-FN, the so-called “Access to abortion care” bill, states “it shall be the public policy of New Hampshire that, because it is vital to the equality and liberty of all individuals, the state shall not restrict or interfere with an individual’s exercise of their private decision to terminate a pregnancy,” except as provided in the Fetal Life Protection Act and the law regarding parental notification for minors seeking abortion. An individual “injured” as a result of violation of “access to abortion care” would be subject to an injunction and to paying the costs and legal fees of the injured party.

The sponsors of SB 181 include all ten Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka (D-Portsmouth). There are five House co-sponsors.

What the bill means

If access to abortion becomes New Hampshire policy “because it is vital to the equality and liberty of all individuals,” say goodbye to any effort to prevent public funds from being used directly for abortion. Conscience protections for health care personnel, already rejected repeatedly by legislators, would be further away than ever. So would informed consent legislation. If FLPA is repealed – as every sponsor of SB 181 would be pleased to see – then SB 181’s FLPA exception would be moot, and abortion in New Hampshire would once again be legal throughout pregnancy.

There will be a constitutional amendment introduced this session that would achieve everything SB 181 seeks. This bill would serve as a fallback if the constitutional amendment were to fail; SB 181 can be passed with a simple legislative majority while a constitutional change would require a three-fifths majority.

Bottom line: go online and sign in OPPOSED to SB 181-FN. If your district’s senator is on the Judiciary Committee, let that senator know where you stand. Committee members are Sharon Carson (chair; R-Londonderry), Bill Gannon (vice-chair; R-Sandown), Daryl Abbas (R-Salem), Shannon Chandley (D-Amherst), and Rebecca Whitley (D-Hopkinton).

Thirty minutes to look back, then turn the page

I often spend the morning after an election at a local coffee shop or diner. I invite politically-minded acquaintances. There’s one rule: whatever happened on Election Day, we take 30 minutes to crab and moan about any results worth crabbing and moaning about. Once the 31st minute hits, the post-mortem is over. We look to the future.

No one joined me this week. I still have my 30 minutes to go.

Quick review of this week’s election results: Members of New Hampshire’s federal delegation, abortion advocates all, were re-elected. New Hampshire’s enormously popular self-described pro-choice governor won big, in one of the most impressive results in the state, making him even more influential in the NHGOP than before. The 400-member New Hampshire House went from 213 Republican seats to just a shade over 200, depending on how recounts go. The New Hampshire Senate is narrowly Republican, short of the number needed to override any veto the governor might take it into his head to issue. The Executive Council is 4-1 Republican, with none of the Republicans getting more than 53.2% of a district’s vote.

Dobbs: mishandled

“…please, GOP, don’t screw this up by dodging Dobbs.” That was my plea in June after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. “Look for apocalyptic pronouncements from [Democrat] candidates about how Dobbs undermines women and threatens the Republic.” Check.  I added at the time that if Republican candidates tried to shift focus to inflation and the economy, they’d get what they deserved.

They sure did.

The Democratic Party up and down the ticket used abortion as its leading message, warning that women’s rights were at risk. No mention from them – or from Republicans, for that matter – of New Hampshire’s pro-life women. Federally, Republicans went with inflation as the main reason to vote GOP.

Here at home, how many Republicans did you hear talk about the risk to medical conscience rights if abortion-friendly candidates win? How many Republicans vowed to stand firm against public funding of abortion, including within Medicaid? How many talked about our state’s failure to report abortion statistics, which is a women’s health issue? With a slim majority, will New Hampshire Republican leaders decide that the time isn’t right to oppose the proposed state constitutional amendment that would make the direct intentional termination of human life a “right”?

I learned in 2011 and 2012 not to put faith in GOP majorities, large or small, where the right to life is concerned. The New Hampshire senate in that biennium had a 19-5 Republican majority. Can’t get much more impressive that that. You know what came out of that session? Parental notification and a ban on partial birth abortion. Good news. But I remember what failed in the Senate back then, too, after House passage: a prohibition on public funding of abortion (tabled), a Women’s Right to Know Act to require informed consent for abortion (Inexpedient to Legislate), and a post-20-week abortion limitation (interim study).

My 30 minutes are up.

The 31st minute and beyond

I thank God that pro-life work doesn’t depend on who’s in office. Grassroots work will yield results in the long run. If no group dedicated to constructive action already exists in your church or town or group, now’s the time to start one. Don’t wait for someone higher up the organizational chart to give you permission. Better that you work alone than not at all, but working with a group helps provide structure and encouragement for constructive work.

Here are few ideas, and this is hardly a comprehensive list.

Pregnancy care centers around the state offer abortion-free care for women and their families. They need volunteers, staff, and board members. They need advocates in the community who tour the facilities, get to know the workers, and then share the good news with others, one conversation at a time, including conversations with elected officials. The centers need resources not only for direct aid to vulnerable clients but also for facility security.

Eugenic abortion was written into New Hampshire law this year, signaling a troubling better-dead-than-disabled policy preference that has implications across the life-issue spectrum. Learn to tell your story, if you’ve carried to term a child with a life-limiting diagnosis. Learn to tell your story if you’re living with a disability or living with a terminal illness. Show how we can help each other choose life. Your story could help someone realize that there’s a human cost to embracing the direct intentional termination of human life.

I hope voters within the pro-life movement have learned that being in thrall to politicians who say they’re pro-life, and then express contempt for anyone who disagrees with them, yields only Pyrrhic victories.

Write thank-you notes to the people you know whose work helps build a culture of life. I’m going to be writing a few notes today, to pro-life reps who will be leaving office soon. They must have felt isolated at times.

Nonviolent public action doesn’t depend on majorities. Join vigils. Pray and work. If a march is constructive, be part of it. Come to hearings, and bring a friend.

I’ve been all over the state to speak about constructive civic engagement for pro-life Granite Staters. If I can be of assistance to you in your area, let me know.

2023, here we come.

An abortion agenda for NH

The New Hampshire Women’s Foundation counts “abortion rights” among its interests. One of the Foundation’s recent publications lists “Post-Roe policy priorities in New Hampshire,” with footnoted credit to the New Hampshire Abortion Access Coalition.

I take no credit for being psychic, but I called a few of these the day the Dobbs decision came down. You probably did, too. Remember, Dobbs did not recognize a right to life.

The following list of “post-Roe policy priorities” should inspire an interesting Q&A session with your local candidates for state rep and state senator. Any candidate not committed to resisting these “priorities” will be a candidate who advances them.

  • “Pass proactive legislation to enshrine the right to access abortion in New Hampshire.” Translation: codify unlimited abortion via statute.
  • “Amend New Hampshire’s Constitution to enshrine the right to access abortion in New Hampshire.” Codify unlimited abortion via constitution – and possibly by misuse of our constitution’s privacy amendment.
  • “Repeal current abortion restrictions.” New Hampshire has exactly three statutory regulations on abortion: parental notification, a ban on partial-birth abortion (i.e. killing a child after the child is partially delivered from the mother’s body), and a 24-week limit with a eugenic-abortion exception. Goodbye to all that, if the Foundation has its way.
  • “Address disparities in abortion care based on geographic location, including for abortion later in pregnancy.” Watch out for regulatory (executive, administrative) action on this in addition to statutory action. Open more abortion facilities? Force hospitals to provide the direct intentional termination of human life late in pregnancy? Whatever it takes, I suppose.
  • “Support policies to ensure abortion and abortion-related care is covered for all patients, regardless of insurance.” Translation: force taxpayers to subsidize abortion via Medicaid. Again, watch for regulations that do what statutes can’t.
  • “Increase the number of providers who offer abortion care.” Here’s one way: make health care providers see the intentional termination of human life as a normal medical procedure, and then stigmatize and sanction providers who push back.
  • “Defeat anti-abortion legislation in the State House.” Translation: keep doing everything the abortion advocacy movement has been doing in New Hampshire since 1997. A sampler: oppose conscience protections for health care providers; challenge the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses; fight informed consent and statistics-reporting requirements for abortion; promote discrimination against people with disabilities by promoting eugenic abortion; make sure that infants who survive attempted abortion are not protected under law.

The state primary election this year is September 13. The time to find out where your local candidates stand is now. And an “R” next to your candidate’s name is not an answer.

Quiet voice, fierce champion

Part of a series marking the tenth anniversary of the Leaven for the Loaf blog.

Back in 2016, I asked Darlene Pawlik what anyone could do to advance a culture of life in New Hampshire. “One is to either run [for office] or support another full spectrum pro-life person in their race to the House or Senate. The other is to be responsive to their individual calling within their sphere of influence to be kind, helpful, and honor all lives loudly.”

Darlene’s story has been told elsewhere. Conceived in violence herself and later pregnant through sexual assault, she has a keen appreciation for the lives at risk of being dismissed as “exceptions” when pro-life policy is up for a vote. Her concern for human dignity doesn’t stop there. Her testimony, delivered in her quiet voice, has helped legislators understand that human trafficking is a reality close to home – not just “out there” somewhere.

What’s she up to now?

She’s in a new season of her life, providing special care to loved ones, facing fewer microphones and interviews. She isn’t done making her views known, though. Recently, she asked me to read her written testimony to legislators considering a bill to improve juvenile trafficking victims’ access to the victims’ compensation fund administered by The New Hampshire Department of Justice.

Darlene wrote about the difference even modest compensation could make. “Having access to the victims compensation fund could be more than just a way for a young person to have expenses paid for….It is the fact that people cared enough to set up such a fund which really makes a difference. I was eighteen years old before I knew that people really cared for ‘throw-away’ kids like me. A few hundred dollars [from the compensation fund] may seem small, but it could make a huge difference in the life of a child victimized by traffickers.”

Her testimony evidently struck a chord. The bill has passed House and Senate, and I hope it will soon be on Governor Sununu’s desk.

Five years ago, I reported that she urged us to “honor all lives loudly.” She leads by example.

Woman at podium with sign saying Pray to End Abortion
Darlene Pawlik, speaking at 40 Days for Life rally (Manchester NH) in 2014. Ellen Kolb photo.

post header photo by Ellen Kolb

Born-alive bill: party-line vote in Senate committee

The New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 on Tuesday to recommend “ought to pass” on a HB 233, a bill to establish a committee to study the right of born-alive children to “appropriate and reasonable medical treatment.” The full Senate is expected to vote on the recommendation in January.

The bill being recommended to the full Senate looks a lot different from the bill as passed by the House early this year.

The vote was along party lines, with Republicans Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), Harold French (R-Franklin), and William Gannon (R-Sandown) voting in favor. Democrats Rebecca Whitley of Concord and Thomas Sherman of Rye voted no.

Re-referred: how the bill was carried over from earlier this year

You may recall that HB 233 in its original version prompted a walkout by pro-abortion House members last winter. (See my report “House passes two life-issue bills” from February 24.) The walkout followed the failure of motions to kill and to table the born-alive legislation. A majority of the reps who stayed at their posts eventually voted Ought to Pass on the bill.

The original version of HB 233, sponsored by Reps. Jordan Ulery (R-Hudson) and Walt Stapleton (R-Claremont), passed the House without amendment. Then it went to the Senate, which decided to “re-refer” the bill to the Senate Judiciary committee. This is the Senate’s version of what the House calls “retaining” a bill: holding it over for more consideration in committee, delaying a vote by the full chamber until the following year.

And so here we are: HB 233 went back to the Senate committee, which cast its vote this week to recommend that the full Senate vote next month to pass an amended version of the bill.

Amending the bill

What the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to do on December 14 was recommend amending the bill, changing it from born-alive protection to studying born-alive protection. That amendment, #2292s, was co-sponsored by Sens. Carson and Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead). It failed to attract support from either of the Democrats on the committee.

Likewise, an amendment by Sen. Birdsell (1023s) to clarify HB 233’s language resulted in another 3-2 committee split, although that amendment was rendered moot by the later vote to change the bill to a study committee.

Sen. Birdsell’s amendment was actually prepared back in March for the Senate to consider. At the time, HB 233’s opponents decried the bill as an attempt to force doctors to tear terminally-ill newborns away from their parents in order to administer futile treatment. The Birdsell amendment was an attempt to allay those fears. Today, committee Democrats voted against the Birdsell amendment and then spoke as if it had never been proposed in the first place.

“Inflammatory…insulting to our medical providers”

Before this week’s committee vote, Senators Whitley and Sherman spoke at some length about their opposition to the bill. Their arguments were along these lines: there’s no such thing as a child born alive after attempted abortion; claiming otherwise is an insult to medical personnel; and the bill whether intentionally or not would force doctors to harm grieving families by imposing extraordinary medical interventions on newborns born in a condition likely to result in neonatal death.

The latter argument is likely to be dragged out yet again before the Senate vote in January, despite the Birdsell amendment that made clear the penalties in the original bill would have applied only to health care providers who withhold treatment from a born-alive child with the intention of causing or hastening the child’s death.

That leaves the no-such-thing argument. When Senator Gannon asked Senator Sherman about children surviving attempted abortion, Sherman said “that’s not the way abortion happens….That’s not something that happens in the state.” Senator Whitley added that claims that abortion survivors exist is “a false narrative,” “inflammatory,” and “insulting to our medical providers….In an abortion, a baby is not born alive.”

Noting that the hearing earlier this year on HB 233 included medical professionals objecting to the bill, Whitley expressed concern that supporting born-alive legislation would send a message to providers “that we don’t believe them.”

I can’t help but think that our state’s failure to collect and report on abortion statistics is a factor here. As long as there are no reported abortion complications, including reports on any children born alive after attempted abortion, abortion-friendly legislators can aver that such children are imaginary.

Ignoring abortion survivors

I don’t know if abortion survivors could persuade any skeptical legislators. Probably not, unless the survivor were a New Hampshire resident, and even then I expect the survivor’s claims would be met with resistance.

Melissa Ohden, a survivor herself, is dedicated to sharing her story and to giving other survivors a voice. She and other survivors have testified before Congress and state legislatures. They are advocates for legislation that protects children born alive after attempted abortion. Those advocates can’t be everywhere. I wish they could. Nothing short of a personal encounter with a survivor will pry some legislators away from the “false narrative” claim to which they cling.

Members of the Abortion Survivors Network do what they can. Some have put their stories on video, where anyone – even a legislator – can view them.

I love how Gianna Jessen, an abortion survivor living with cerebral palsy, put it to a Congressional committee: “if abortion is about women’s rights, what were mine?”

Senate to vote on “study”

The amended version of HB 233 to be voted on in the Senate sets up a legislative committee to “study the right of any infant born alive to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” There are three specified duties for such a committee, according to the amendment: consider any potential conflicts with ethics and end of life care standards; consider any potential conflicts with the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, and examine particular state laws (RSA 329:43 through 329:50) for potential conflicts.

There’s no specified duty to ensure that abortion survivors be protected.

Maybe that’s what half a loaf looks like this year: better than nothing. I believe legislators already know how they’ll vote on born-alive bills, regardless of amendments or language or attempts to find common ground. Their press releases and op-eds are probably already drafted. The only question is whether someone will buck his or her party when the bill comes to the floor.