On Roe+42, quite a legislative ride

The New Hampshire House held a committee hearing on a personhood bill today. Lots of testimony in favor, lots of skeptical questions from the committee members. No vote yet. Meanwhile, down in Washington, a big-deal pro-life vote planned to coincide with the national March for Life morphed into something else. I’m still trying to sort it out. There was something in here to please and offend just about everyone.

In Washington, hundreds of thousands march for life

screenshot of EWTN coverage of March for Life 2015
screenshot of EWTN coverage of March for Life 2015

While legislators toiled in Concord and the nation’s capitol, the March for Life went on in Washington. Tuning in to some of the coverage on EWTN was a fair antidote to any legislative overload. I’m glad one network considers an annual civil rights march with hundreds of thousands of people worth covering in depth. If you mutter “well, of course…it’s a Catholic network”, I’m glad anyway. Shame on any “news” organization that skimps on March for Life coverage in favor of in-depth reporting on deflated footballs.

Warning: exceptions alert

True confessions:

  • I support the Hyde Amendment, which has been attached to every federal HHS appropriation for a generation. The Amendment is meant to keep federal funds from paying for most abortions. I support it even though it has a rape-&-incest exception. I don’t see that as “okaying” such abortions.
  • I support parental notification legislation, even though it allows abortions if parents or a judge approve them.
  • I support a ban on partial-birth abortions, even though such laws leave every other type of abortion legal.

You get the idea. Human life exists from the moment of conception and is to be protected. Not every law touching on the life issues protects every human being. That doesn’t mean I want to throw out Hyde, parental notification, and so on.

This becomes relevant as we look at the mess that the House made out of a decent bill over the past few days.

A federal 20-week ban is on hold

The Pain-Capable Unborn Children Protection Act, as originally written and introduced in Congress, would have made abortions illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy, on the grounds that babies can feel pain at that point.

You and I are human whether we can feel pain or not. I say that without fear of serious argument. I favored the bill, though, because it was a good step. A consensus point: most Americans find late-term abortions at least distasteful.  The Republicans were supposedly going to get this passed: it had passed the House once before, only to come up against an obstinately pro-abortion Democratic Senate. The 2014 election brought a Republican Senate to power. A vote was scheduled for January 22, to coincide with the march in Washington. So – on with the 20-week ban. Right?

No. An exception for rape & incest abortions was added to the bill. Uh-oh. No-exceptions members of Congress objected, as did national groups like Save the 1. Then a provision was added that a rape survivor wanting a post-20-week abortion couldn’t have one unless the rape was first reported to law enforcement. I heard from an authoritative source yesterday what was confirmed in news coverage today: every woman in the GOP conference in the House, save one, said they’d abandon the bill unless the latter provision were removed. Few Republican men want to be cast as being unsympathetic to women, so this caused great consternation in the party conference. The upshot: Speaker Boehner pulled the bill from the calendar.

He did so despite the fact that the bill with its exceptions and its rape-reporting language was endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List (which expected its endorsed candidates to support it; that was a miscalculation), the Family Research Council, the National Right to Life Committee, and the organizers of the national March for Life.

The number of emails from these groups over the past 48 hours became positively oppressive. More oppressive still was the absence of any mention of the bill’s exceptions.

Congresswoman Renee Ellmers of North Carolina explained why she led the charge to derail the bill: “I think we’re all just going through some growing pains,” and she didn’t want the GOP to sound “harsh” to women and young people. Help yourself to her comments here. So much for being endorsed by pro-life groups.

Would I have cut off my support for my Congressman had he voted for the exceptions-laden bill? No, in view of his overall record (and in view of the rabid pro-abortion beliefs of the woman he replaced). But let’s not pretend the exceptions weren’t there.

The bill will be brought up at a later date. What condition it will arrive in is anybody’s guess.

A postscript: conspicuously absent from the list of organizations promoting the bill was Americans United for Life. AUL’s Women’s Protection Project includes model legislation restricting late-term abortions because of the sharply increased risk they pose to a pregnant woman. The Project is a state-by-state endeavor.

The consolation prize: the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act

From the Washington Examiner:

Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ)
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), sponsor of No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion

The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which passed 242-179, was identical to a bill that cleared the Republican-run House last year but died in the then-Democratic controlled Senate. Only three Democrats supported the measure, with Rep. Richard Hanna of Indiana the lone Republican to reject it. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., would make it illegal for individuals to use the Affordable Care Act’s insurance subsidies to buy plans that cover abortion services through the new health exchanges. Many states have already passed legislation limiting abortion coverage in exchange plans, but the measure the House approved would apply nationwide and possibly discourage insurers on the exchanges from offering abortion coverage at all.

Democrats are calling it an assault on women’s health, but they always call taxpayer divestiture from the abortion industry an assault on women’s health.

The bill leaves untouched the Affordable Care Act’s provision that suppression of women’s fertility is such a public health imperative that contraception (including abortion-inducing drugs and devices) must be covered as “preventive care,” paid for by all of us. Still, am I pleased about today’s no-funding bill, as far as it goes? Yes, as far as it goes. Call me an incrementalist.

Meanwhile in Concord, personhood gets a hearing

Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton) and nine co-sponsors brought the All People Created Equal Act to the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee today. The Act, HB 194, is simply – or complexly – a personhood bill.

Committee chairman Rep. Robert Rowe (R-Amherst) was prepared. He booked a double-sized room and did not put anything else on the committee calendar for the day. I stayed for only an hour and a half. Judging from the number of people signing in on the bill, I suspect the festivities went well into the afternoon.

The pink t-shirts file in before the personhood hearing in Concord, 1/22/15.
The pink t-shirts file in before the personhood hearing in Concord, 1/22/15.

A pink-t-shirt brigade of Planned Parenthood supporters, nine in all, occupied seats a front corner of the public area. As I’ve noticed at other events, I’ve never seen a faded PP shirt. Are they EVER worn more than once?

From perspectives scientific, religious, and moral, supporters of the bill endorsed the idea that public policy should acknowledge that the offspring of human beings should be recognized as persons from the moment of conception. Unique DNA, undoubtedly human, genetically distinct from the mother: what’s to argue?

Eight state representatives testified to this. More reps signed in but were unable to testify in person; hearings were going on throughout the building on a multitude of other bills. Representatives of New Hampshire Right to Life were there. I recognized several pro-lifers who took time off work or lined up babysitters so they could support the bill in person.

And in the other corner, so to speak: Planned Parenthood and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union had testified against the bill by the time I left. “A frontal attack on access to abortion,” said PP. “Giving legal rights to fertilized eggs would affect many other laws….This doesn’t start a dialogue. This would change the law without a dialogue,” said NHCLU.

Questions from the committee: wouldn’t this stop stem-cell research? (Not adult stem cells.) Wouldn’t this stop in vitro fertilizations? Would this mean “leftover” embryos couldn’t be destroyed? Would the murder of a pregnant woman count as a double homicide? (Tune in when fetal homicide gets a hearing.) If doctors get to decide when life ends, shouldn’t they be able to decide when life begins? (That one came from Rep. Michael Sylvia, R-Belmont, who has much more faith in the medical profession than I.) If Republican principles support limited government, doesn’t this expand government? (That’s another one from Mr. Sylvia, who knows that personhood is also part of the NHGOP platform.)

The unspoken questions I heard all morning: No exceptions? Really? Wouldn’t this really mess up what we’re used to?

Of course it would. Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at what we’re used to.