Remembering Jack Kenny

Jack Kenny succumbed to cancer a few days ago. He was a Manchester journalist with broad interests, astringent opinions, and an abiding devotion to the most vulnerable human beings among us. He wrote and spoke in defense of the unborn at every opportunity.

“There are no words to adequately describe the horror of babies being butchered in, or partially out of, their mothers’ wombs. That ‘abortion rights’ have become a cornerstone of the ‘feminist movement’ is not only a crime against God and humanity, it is an intolerable slander against women.(Jack Kenny, Manchester Union Leader, January 24, 1999)

A couple of years ago, Jack invited me to be a guest on his Manchester Community TV show to talk about 40 Days for Life. The opening segment was a current-events monologue from Jack, as was customary. I forget whom he was raking over the coals at the time. I do recall that he was in fine form, working without notes. He was a deadeye shot with his words.

Then he introduced me and began asking about 40 Days for Life, and the lion became a pussycat. 40DFL is all about striving for an end to abortion, meeting violence and injustice with prayer and peaceful witness. Jack was always willing to help get the word out about that.

A classic columnist

Longtime readers of the Union Leader will recall his days as a columnist there. A quarter of a century ago he held his own with editors and writers who made every UL opinion page crackle. He did his keenest work when he wrote about abortion, its effect on public policy, and the people who were on the front lines, pro and con.

“…the right to life is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a hell of a subject for neutrality.” (Kenny, UL, 9/13/98)

He once wrote about a Labor Day breakfast at which then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen was featured speaker. A Catholic priest was honored at the event for his work promoting social justice. Jack raised an eyebrow. “If you think this is ‘single-issue’ fanaticism, ask yourself this: Would [the monsignor] share a platform with someone who advocated racial discrimination or espoused anti-Semitism?…Yet Gov. Shaheen supports, promotes and defends as a ‘right’ the killing of preborn babies. No problem. Organized labor doesn’t care and the monsignor pretends not to notice.”

I like to say that “pro-life” isn’t spelled G-O-P, but Jack was beating that drum long before I joined the band. He was driven to distraction by Republicans who failed to highlight their electoral opponents’ abortion extremism. In his columns, he unhesitatingly called out abortion-friendly Republicans. When Republican majorities in Concord failed to pass parental notification legislation, he heaped scorn where it needed to be heaped, and he didn’t let up until a parental notification law was firmly in place.

Long after his days as a regular UL columnist were over, he kept up a stream of letters to the editor, playing familiar themes. From 2019: “I know some will say abortion is not an issue in local elections, but people who do not respect the right to life may not be reliable on other issues, either. The pro-abortion forces seem to think it worth the effort to promote their culture of death candidates in local and state as well as in federal elections. Too many pro-life candidates fail to defend their position for life, leaving many voters as uninformed at the end of the election campaign as they were at the beginning.”

A persistent reporter

Back in the 1990s, “Optima Health” was big news. It was an attempt to link Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center with Elliot Hospital. One of the rocks on which that venture foundered was the revelation of a scheduled abortion at the Elliot, contravening assurances that such things wouldn’t happen under Optima. It was a complex and lengthy story. While all this was going on, Jack wrote about the people who risked jail and loss of livelihood to raise alarms about the danger Optima posed to CMC’s Catholic identity.

“Many ensnared by Optima’s web of deceit” appeared under Jack’s byline in May of 1998. It was written by a professional journalist who patiently worked to untangle the skeins of the story. At the same time, it was commentary with a definite attitude, written by a man who saw good people being given a hard time for doing the right things.

“And it all started because Optima had scheduled a ‘procedure’ its officials were telling the public was not being, and would not be, performed at either of its Manchester hospitals. Unfortunately, some honest and conscientious people have been caught up in Optima’s web of deceit.”

I recall another late-’90s incident that would have been a one-day story if Jack hadn’t helped to keep it out in the open. Pro-lifers were demonstrating peacefully one evening outside a fundraising event for an abortion advocacy group; the Portsmouth police got involved; arrests and a broken wrist ensued. Jack whipped out his pencil and started asking questions of the relevant parties, leading to “Content or conduct: just what upset Portsmouth police?” and “Portsmouth heroic police make protesting perilous.”

“The right to peacefully assemble and protest belongs as much to those protesting abortion as anyone else. Or at least it used to. It can hardly be surprising if a society that no longer respects the right to life becomes indifferent to other rights as well.”

A lighter side

For all his righteous indignation, he had a sense of humor, and he knew how to aim it at himself.

“I regard [a certain Manchester politician] as a good Republican conservative, notwithstanding her support of George W. Bush for President and her fondness for such Modernist heresies as the notion that a ‘qualified’ woman should umpire professional baseball games. I reject, however, her recent assertion that I have a ‘Cro-Magnon mind.’ Flattery will get her nowhere. My mind is orthodox Neanderthal and I intend to keep it that way.”

His faith

Politics might have been a passion, but Jack knew that his Creator transcended such matters.

A few years ago, the long-shuttered St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Nashua was revived as a parish where the Latin Mass could be celebrated daily. At the very first Mass there, the place was packed with worshippers. There were old-timers from the days when St. Stan’s had been the ethnic parish in the neighborhood. There were people like me who were curious about the Latin Mass. And then there were the people already familiar with the traditional rite, praying with joy, very much at home. Jack was one of those people.

I hardly recognized him when he sat down near me. I had never seen his face in such repose. He had left his political indignation outside the door in order to put himself at the foot of the Cross.

I trust that in God’s mercy, Jack is now surrounded by the innocent souls he defended so ardently. May his repose be complete.


Jack’s obituary requests that memorial donations be made to Pennacook Pregnancy Center, 657-B Chestnut Street, Manchester NH 03104, or St. Benedict Abbey, PO Box 67, Still River MA 01467. I’ll venture to suggest that time at a 40 Days for Life vigil would be appropriate, too.

We’re in the post-Roe era

Today, the sun is setting on the era of Roe.

For those of you in a hurry: the U.S. Supreme Court has issued its Dobbs opinion, and Roe v. Wade is overturned along with its successor Casey decision. Abortion regulation is to be left to the states. Peruse the giant-sized decision at your leisure.

For those who want a deeper dive, I have some thoughts for your consideration.

The leaker and the bullies lost

Whoever leaked the draft opinion – and I’ll maintain all my days that it was an abortion-friendly Court clerk – lost a huge gamble. It backfired, even if the initial reaction was all the leaker could have hoped for. The leak sparked outrage among abortion advocates. Justices were doxxed and home addresses were made public. There was an assassination plan against Justice Kavanaugh. Bullies felt emboldened.

Five Justices stood up to all that. The vote was 5 to overturn Roe, 3 opposed, and a vote by the Chief Justice to uphold Mississippi’s law while still upholding Roe. (So that’s what a cut-rate Solomon sounds like.) Here’s to Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett.

The bullying might not be over, and we might see it close to home. Time will tell. The Court has just given a powerful example of how to face it.

The Court did not recognize the fundamental right to life

Absolutely nothing in Dobbs‘ majority opinion recognized the fundamental right to life of each human being from the moment of conception.

I have worked my entire adult life for our laws to recognize human dignity, to support mothers as well as children, to reject eugenics, to defend conscience rights for health care workers who want nothing to do with abortion.

And here I am, cheering a decision that does none of that. We have been conditioned to set the bar low and then cheer when we clear it.

Thanks be to God that Roe was not affirmed. We move on from there.

New Hampshire remains abortion-friendly, for now

All that State House action I’ve been writing about since 2012 will keep right on going. The Dobbs decision returns abortion regulation to the states, meaning the people we elect to be our state representatives and senators and executive councilors and (God help us) governors will still be the ones to call the shots on our behalf.

New Hampshire law still permits eugenic abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. That won’t change. In fact, the Mississippi law upheld by the Court today had a 15-week abortion limit, with a eugenic exception. Preborn children with life-limiting diagnoses are not protected.

The New Hampshire constitution could still be amended to protect abortion – or the constitution’s “privacy” amendment could be construed by our state Supreme Court to accomplish the same thing.

New Hampshire legislators have repeatedly rejected conscience protections for health care workers who choose not to be involved in abortion. That’s okay under Dobbs.

Our parental notification statutes and ban on partial-birth abortion could be repealed by our legislature. That’s okay under Dobbs, too.

Buffer zone laws consistent with past Court decisions will remain on the books. So will unenforced buffer zone laws like New Hampshire’s.

Also fine and dandy under Dobbs: refusal to collect abortion statistics – refusal to require making sonogram images available (not mandated, but available) to abortion-minded women – giving state dollars to abortion providers.

In other words, citizen activists will still need to beat a path to hearings in Concord every single session. If they don’t, abortion advocates will prevail. Simple as that.

Pregnancy care centers will become more crucial than ever

The growth and strengthening of the network of pregnancy care centers in New Hampshire has been a bright spot in Granite State culture. These abortion-free agencies go far beyond crisis pregnancy management. They support pregnant and parenting women and their partners as far as resources allow, with most of those resources coming from private donors.

Ironically, in the days following the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion, some of those pregnancy care centers in other states were subject to attacks.

In the face of opposition, it’s time to redouble the efforts that have brought pregnancy care networks this far.

At least one party will handle Dobbs to its advantage

Indie voter speaking here: please, GOP, don’t screw this up by dodging Dobbs.

The Democrat party, from its national leadership down to its New Hampshire town committees, has been consistent in its abortion-friendly messaging. As an activist, I recognize political savvy when I see it, even if it’s in the service of something dreadful. Look for apocalyptic pronouncements from candidates about how Dobbs undermines women and threatens the Republic. Look for tightly-focused attacks on any Republican who’s squishy on the right to life.

As for those squishy Republicans, if their response to Dobbs is to try to shift focus to inflation and the economy, they’ll get what they deserve. Unfortunately, so will their constituents. Then the Dobbs-dodging candidates will wonder why 40% of New Hampshire voters refuse formal affiliation with either party.

Nonviolence: walk the talk

Public pro-life witness is likely to become riskier. Our response to provocation has to be more than “be nice.” It’s time to move past talking about nonviolence as a mere theoretical tactic.

Are you ready to surrender your natural right to self-defense if you’re physically attacked for defending life? Are you ready to practice nonviolence in speech as well as action? Are you ready to be arrested for nonviolent public witness, or are you worried about how that would affect your job or your reputation? Are you prepared to document events when you’re on the scene of a challenge to peaceful witness? Are you prepared to help protect vulnerable facilities whose workers and volunteers are providing life-affirming care? Are you prepared to organize carpools and vanpools and busloads of pro-life allies to public hearings? Are you prepared to “speak life” in season and out of season, in a manner worthy of the goal? Are you ready to financially and spiritually support allies whose nonviolent defense of life leads to job loss or worse?

These are personal decisions, but they’re best made with a supportive well-grounded group. I think churches are uniquely positioned to teach and support nonviolent public action. If they won’t do the job, let our secular pro-life neighbors lead.

A culture of death won’t be overturned by people being nice. It won’t even be overturned by a Court, although a Court can make helpful decisions. Only love can prevail – love that’s sometimes disruptive, always sacrificial to some degree, always risky, often shown in little day-to-day things, courageous even when my knees are shaking.

Nonviolence is the fruit of love like that. First things first.

I’m grateful for the Dobbs decision, even with its limitations. Now let’s get moving. See you at the State House.

Buffer zone repeal, 2022: House to vote week of March 15

Amidst an extremely long agenda on the New Hampshire House calendar for next week, buffer zone repeal – HB 1625 – awaits action. The Judiciary Committee on a 12-9 vote is recommending “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL). The full House in its multi-day session will vote on the bill sometime between Tuesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 17.

Identify your representatives by checking the House roster by town. Click on each name to find contact information. As them to overturn the Judiciary Committee’s ITL recommendation on HB 1625, and instead support a motion of “ought to pass” (OTP). You may find that you belong to two districts, and if that’s the case, contact all the representatives listed. If you send email, be sure your subject line is clear, since that may be the only thing a rep has time to read: “From a constituent: please vote OTP on HB 1625.”

Why HB 1625 deserves special attention

There will be other life-issue bills on the House calendar, and I will address those in a separate post. Why single out buffer zone repeal for special attention? Certainly the First Amendment implications are important, but there’s another reason. The committee’s majority report recommending ITL contains two falsehoods. Any representative supporting the ITL recommendation will be embracing them.

I cast no aspersions on Rep. Mark Paige (D-Exeter), who wrote the majority report. He may have depended on unreliable sources. All the more reason to clear up the false information.

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law threatens the right of peaceful pro-life witnesses to be present on public property outside abortion facilities. The law has never been enforced since its 2014 passage. Nevertheless, it remains a stain on our statutes.

No, the buffer zone law was NOT drafted to follow Supreme Court guidelines

From the Judiciary Committee’s minority report, which is printed in the House calendar and may be the only thing most reps read about HB 1625: “…the drafters of our current buffer law carefully crafted it after the [U.S. Supreme] Court decided McCullen, thus with particular knowledge of the constitutional limits of buffer zone laws.”

That is four-alarm nonsense.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley, striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone law on which New Hampshire’s law was based, was handed down on June 26, 2014. (You can read the case itself and my commentary written at the time the case was decided.)

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law was introduced on December 17, 2013, passed by the House in February 2014, passed by the Senate in May 2014, and signed by then-Governor Maggie Hassan on June 10, 2014. That’s 16 days before the Supreme Court handed down McCullen.

The governor and every legislator knew perfectly well that the McCullen case was pending in the Court. They enabled the New Hampshire buffer zone law anyway.

So much for being “carefully crafted” after McCullen.

click to read more

Preview and review: upcoming House hearing and votes, results of earlier hearings

On Tuesday, February 15, a House committee will hold a hearing on a medical conscience bill. Details below. What you can do: sign in online in support of the bill. Healthcare professionals, take note.

On Wednesday or Thursday, February 16 or 17, the full House will vote on a bill that was intended to gut New Hampshire’s Fetal Life Protection Act – and the House has the opportunity to adopt an amendment which would actually protect FLPA. Details below, along with a note on what will happen the same day to the abortion statistics bill. What you can do: contact your state representatives.

On Friday, February 18, the House Judiciary Committee will vote on the six life-issue bills on which they held hearings recently. Details (you guessed it) below. What you can do: contact the committee. You might be dismayed at the way the online sign-ups went on these bills. No need for dismay: let this be a spur to action.

Finally, to update an earlier post, you’ll read how the Senate voted on a pair of life-issue bills.

Continue reading “Preview and review: upcoming House hearing and votes, results of earlier hearings”

Abortion providers are once again disappointed in the Executive Council

Today, the New Hampshire Executive Council voted 4-1 to reject family planning contracts with three abortion providers, while approving on 3-2 votes similar contracts with agencies that do not perform abortions. The Council gave thumbs down to the same abortion providers in September, on the same contract proposals.

The 4-1 vote was along party lines, with Republicans Joe Kenney, Janet Stevens, Ted Gatsas, and Dave Wheeler prevailing over Democrat Cinde Warmington. On the 3-2 votes, Councilors Gatsas and Wheeler were in the minority, according to The New Hampshire Union Leader.

A majority of the councilors saying no to the abortion providers aren’t doing so because they have a problem with family planning programs. Their issue is with the abortion side of the providers’ business. They know that giving x number of dollars to an agency for a specific task frees up other agency resources for other tasks.

“Shameful,” says the VP of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “We are outraged,” tweeted the NH Women’s Forum.

The Council’s vote appears to be consistent with state law, as passed in the trailer bill to the state budget that went into effect on July 1 (HB 2, chaptered final version, section 91:36; see subsections 3 and 4):

Any contract awarded to a family planning project shall contain all of the following provisions: (1) that no state funds shall be used to subsidize abortions, either directly or indirectly; (2) that the family planning project will permit the commissioner of the department of health and human services, or his or her designated agent or delegate, to inspect the financial records of the family planning project to monitor compliance with this section; (3) that at the end of each fiscal year, the commissioner shall certify, in writing, to the governor and council that he or she, personally or through a designated agent or delegate, has reviewed the expenditure of funds awarded to a family planning project under this section and that no state funds awarded by the department have been used to provide abortion services; and (4) that if the commissioner fails to make such certification or if the governor and executive council, based on evidence presented by the commissioner in his or her certification, find that state funds awarded by the department have been used to provide abortion services, the grant recipient shall either: (a) be found to be in breach of the terms of such contract, grant, or award of funds and forfeit all right to receive further funding; or (b) suspend all operations until such time as the state funded family planning project is physically and financially separate from any reproductive health facility, as defined in RSA 132:37.

Chapter 91:36, HB 2 as enacted by New Hampshire Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu, 2021

The PPNNE spokesperson has averred that there are no unanswered questions about how PP spends taxpayer money.

According to Kevin Landrigan’s Union Leader report, Governor Sununu expressed hope that the Council will reconsider once the statutorily-required audits are complete. Landrigan quoted the governor as saying “The fight isn’t over yet,” to which Councilor Kenney reportedly replied, “I believe it is.”

In advance of the vote, the Public Policy office of the Diocese of Manchester in an email had urged readers to contact their Councilors to urge a “no” vote on contracts with abortion providers PPNNE, the Equality Center in Concord, and Lovering Health. “Keeping state funds separate from abortion activities is an important public policy-– a policy that is especially appropriate in the context presented by these particular contracts, because abortion unquestionably should not be thought of simply as an element of family planning.” 

New Hampshire Right to Life also issued a public heads-up before today’s Council meeting. “Soon after the Executive Council members decided to uphold the law in mid-September, the NH abortion providers announced increased prices for family planning services on their poorest clientele…. The abortionists thought they could bully NH taxpayers into subsidizing their abortions by increasing prices for other services….As a public service, NHRTL responded to the price increases at abortion facilities for their low-income clients by publishing an interactive map with a list of health care centers and other helpful organizations for women and their families.”

If you’d like to send your councilor a polite message about the votes, here’s contact information.