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.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear challenge to Roe on December 1

The state of Mississippi enacted a law in 2018 restricting abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation. It was challenged in court (of course). The case, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for December 1, with a decision to be handed down in 2022. The Court will be asked to rule on whether states may enact any pre-viability abortion restrictions.

This gives the Court a chance to overrule Roe and Casey. It also gives the Court a chance to affirm them.

For all the recent agitation that has accompanied the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justices, no one knows how Dobbs will come out.

I’ll be traveling to Washington, DC on December 1 to stand outside the Supreme Court beside pro-life activists from around the country urging the Justices to let the Mississippi law stand. Discount airfare, one-day trip, pack a lunch: no sweat. For me, it’ll be like the March for Life seven weeks early.

For those staying closer to home, a coalition of Christian groups is organizing an online prayer event to be held on November 18 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. From the event’s invitation:

Join Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians across the country coming together online to pray for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. This is the case that could could overturn Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. This historic online gathering will bring together Christians across denominations. Together, we will pray for a just outcome that protects millions of preborn babies and their mothers. Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). Join us!

Find the flyer for the November event at prayfordobbs.com. There’s also a printable information sheet about the Dobbs case. Share freely.

One needn’t be Christian to recognize the right to life, and groups like Secular Pro-Life are supporting the Mississippi law. There’s room for everyone to urge the Court to move past Roe.

These “rallies” are sure to make the news

Next Saturday, October 2, rallies for “abortion justice” (Planned Parenthood’s term, not mine) will be held in various cities across the nation. Six of them will be in New Hampshire. Per PPNH Action Fund’s Facebook post, the event will be a “demonstration of our collective uprising…continuing to fight to defend access to abortion care.”

You can find that post on Facebook yourself. I choose not to link to it.

I expect this will result in front-page Sunday news coverage for those who still read printed news. It will result in immediate news stories online. Watch for reactions from various public officials (and would-be public officials).

New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion limitation, due to go into effect January 1, is certainly one prompt for pro-abortion demonstrations. So is Texas’s so-called heartbeat law. So is the Dobbs case, involving pro-life legislation in Mississippi, which will be argued at the U.S. Supreme Court in December with a decision to follow a few months later.

The Dobbs case accounts for the timing of these rallies: the Supreme Court will convene for its 2021-22 session two days later, on the first Monday in October.

Perhaps news coverage of these rallies will include a deep dive into what constitutes “abortion care” or “abortion justice.” In case it doesn’t, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Abortion is not health care. It’s the intentional induced termination of a human life. Oddly, given the claims I’ve heard many times in legislative hearings about abortion being some kind of medical event, there’s no statute in New Hampshire of which I’m aware requiring that medical personnel be involved in any abortion. Chemical or drug-induced or “medical” abortion might be one exception, although on regulatory rather than statutory grounds, due to the need for a prescription

New Hampshire does not keep track of abortion statistics and report aggregate non-identifying data to the federal Centers for Disease Control, unlike nearly every other state in the Union. Anyone who calls a stats law a threat to “abortion justice” needs to take up the matter with the CDC, which has published abortion surveillance data for decades.

New Hampshire has an unenforced buffer zone law, passed at the behest of abortion advocates who want to prevent any demonstration outside abortion facilities. Under the law, abortion facility managers may determine the time and location of activities on public sidewalks within 25 feet of the facility. The law draws no distinction between peaceful pro-life witness and violent confrontation. It does not require that laws against trespass or harassment be enforced before First Amendment rights are abrogated. No wonder the law’s unenforced. Would repeal of that buffer zone law represent a threat to “abortion justice”? Take that up with the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously struck down a very similar Massachusetts law, on narrow grounds. Even Justice Ginsburg joined that decision.

Respecting the dignity and value of each human life from conception onward is still a step too far for some of my neighbors who are drawn to phrases like “abortion justice” and “access to abortion.” We’ll get there, I hope. In the meantime, consider this: how much justice is there in not requiring medical involvement in abortion, or in failing to collect and report abortion data to the CDC, or in trying to abrogate First Amendment rights of public, peaceful, prayerful pro-life witnesses?

Rallies come and go, and these abortion-advocacy gatherings will be no different. If they leave anything in their wake, I hope it will be the jarring impression left by the oxymoron “abortion justice.”

Senate Committee to hear life-issue bills March 30

The New Hampshire Senate Judiciary committee will hold hearings on Tuesday, March 30 on two life-issue bills, HB 233 and HB 625.

The hearing on HB 233, to protect infants who survive attempted abortion, will be at 1 p.m. A hearing on HB 625, to limit late-term abortions, will follow at 1:30. Hearings are still being held remotely, via Zoom videoconference. Members of the public can register online in advance to testify . The same sign-in process is used to register support or opposition without providing testimony.

I described the bills and their course through the House in “House passes two life-issue bills, overturning committee reports.

Members of the public may view the Senate Judiciary hearing using the following links:

  1. Link to Zoom Webinar: https://www.zoom.us/j/91687899729
  2. To listen via telephone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
    1-301-715-8592, or 1-312-626-6799 or 1-929-205-6099, or 1-253-215-8782, or 1-346-248-7799, or 1-669-900-6833
  3. Or iPhone one-tap: US: +13017158592,,91687899729# or +13126266799,, 91687899729#
  4. Webinar ID: 916 8789 9729