SB 490 was gateway to assisted suicide, and the Senate just slammed it shut for now

(Updated to add link to recording of Senate debate and vote.)

On a 12-10 vote, the New Hampshire Senate has killed a bill that would have paved the way for assisted suicide. I did not see that result coming. Thank-yous are in order, including one I didn’t think I’d ever be writing.

Voting “inexpedient to legislate,” sending the bill into the trash heap: Senators Bob Giuda, James Gray, Harold French, Ruth Ward, Gary Daniels, Kevin Avard, John Reagan, Donna Soucy, Regina Birdsell, Chuck Morse, William Gannon, and Dan Innis. If any one of them had voted differently, today’s outcome would have been different.

Yes, that Donna Soucy, godmother of the unenforced buffer zone law. She was the lone Democrat to do the right thing on SB 490. She deserves thanks and respect for today’s vote.

And then there are the senators who wanted to keep the bill out of the trash heap: Jeff Woodburn, Jeb Bradley, David Watters, Martha Hennessey, Andy Sanborn, Jay Kahn, Bette Lasky, Dan Feltes, Kevin Cavanaugh, and Martha Fuller Clark. Bradley and Sanborn were the two Republicans favoring the bill, for those of you tracking such things.

Senators Sharon Carson and Lou D’Allesandro were absent.

Contact information for all senators is here.

The bill was supposedly about studying end of life choices. The sponsor tipped her hand when she introduced the bill in committee and went on to defend assisted suicide, while fervently denying that what she was advocating was suicide. Medical provision of lethal doses of drugs, yes, but not assisted suicide.  She tried to sell that position today, but 12 senators weren’t buying it.

I listened to the debate this morning as a theme gradually emerged: right to life vs. personal autonomy. Where I have I heard that one before? And then there was it’s-just-a-study. Riiiight.

The 12-10 ITL result was a good day’s work. It’s also a clear warning. Assisted-suicide advocates are going to come back in one guise or another, even though this year’s bill is dead. The lines of support and opposition for assisted suicide are going to look different from the ones regarding abortion.  Neutrality will only serve to support the assisted suicide advocates, who want the lethal prescription to be seen as medical treatment.

Maybe some legislators can be persuaded to change their position. Maybe some are adamant. You might want to look into that before the next election.

Celebrate the day’s work. Thank the people who voted ITL. Take a breath. Then be ready for the next round, whenever it comes.

Recording of the debate and vote, from the NH General Court web site:

Go to Feb. 22 recording, click on Agenda tab, and scroll down to SB 490 at time stamp 11:09:27.


Update: Sponsor Testifies Her “End of Life” Study Bill is About “Medically Assisted Death”

At the February 8 Senate Health and Human Services committee hearing introducing SB 490, Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover) spoke in praise of what she called “medically assisted death.” With that, she confirmed that her bill “establishing a commission to study end-of-life choices” would be open to concluding that assisted suicide is an acceptable state policy.

She strenuously objected to the use of the term “assisted suicide” to describe her bill or her goal. She used the words “medically assisted death” again and again.

I say call the bill what it is: a gateway to assisted suicide.

Some of the people at the hearing, including myself, weren’t sure what the Senator had in mind until she made her introductory speech. I give her credit for candor and for clearing up the mystery so quickly.

A representative of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester testified that if the bill had been what the title indicated, there would have been no cause for concern. In view of the sponsor’s words today, he said, it’s now a different story.

A physician, an advocate for people with brain injuries, and people concerned with disability rights testified about the danger of a public policy that treats suicide as a medical treatment. A young man with Down syndrome spoke against the bill: “Disability is not a fate worse than death!” He knew, as the other speakers opposing the bill know, that normalizing physician-assisted suicide will have far-reaching effects.

Sen. Hennessey professed mystification that anyone could see her bill as a threat to people with disabilities. I will not question her sincerity at this point.

A representative of hospice agencies testified with the disappointing news that after years of resisting proposals that could lead to assisted suicide, her group is now “neutral” on this bill.

No date has been set for the committee vote. The full Senate must act on the bill no later than March 22.

Where’s the roll call on SB 66? (Update: Found!)

Update: a few hours after this post went up, so did the Senate roll calls for SB 66. View them at this link. The first roll call listed is the 8-week amendment that failed on a 12-12 vote. Sens. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) and Dan Innis (R-New Castle) joined the Senate’s ten Democrats in rejecting that language. They did support the 20-week amendment, which passed 14-10. 

The thing about legislative roll calls is that they’re public. They tie elected officials to particular votes. They’re an accountability measure.

During the debate on Senate Bill 66, the fetal homicide measure passed yesterday by the New Hampshire Senate, three roll call votes were taken, according to the official docket for the bill, accessed via the General Court’s web site.

Docket of SB 66 as posted 11:30 a.m., 2/17/2017.

The first roll call (“RC”) was on an amendment; the vote was 12-12; the amendment failed (“AF”). This was the attempt to change the bill’s language to 8 weeks, instead of keeping the original “viability.”

The second roll call was on the amendment to replace “viability” with 20 weeks. This one passed (“AA” or “amendment adopted”) 14-10. The third roll call was to accept the bill as amended, and on another 14-10 vote, the bill passed.

Those RC notations are all hyperlinked to the page that ought to give us the roll calls: each Senator’s name, each Senator’s vote. Instead, we have this.

Record indicating no roll calls on SB 66, as viewed 11:30 a.m. 2/17/2017.

Each day’s roll calls are usually posted online by the end of the day. The recent House right-to-work roll call was online within ten minutes of when the vote occurred.

Personally, I’d like to know the breakdown on that 12-12 vote. I feel safe in saying all ten Democratic senators opposed the bill in all its proposed versions. So who are the two Republicans who couldn’t support the 8-week amendment?

I could just call the Senate clerk or call a Senator. But there’s that thing about roll calls being public. There’s that roll call page on the web site.

I’ll update this when and if the roll calls are posted.


Update: N.H. Senate Passes Amended Fetal Homicide Bill

The New Hampshire Senate today passed SB 66 on a 14-10 vote. The measure is a fetal homicide bill that would give prosecutors the option of filing homicide charges against anyone whose bad actions cause the death of a preborn child against the mother’s wishes. As introduced, SB 66 could have been used only for fetal deaths after viability, but the Senate amended the bill today to change “viability” to 20 weeks’ gestation.

The bill’s legislative docket includes links to roll calls.

A New Hampshire House committee last week retained another fetal homicide bill, HB 156, which bars further action on the House version for now. The House bill would have made fetal homicide charges possible for deaths of preborn children at 8 weeks’ gestation or later. It is likely that the Senate bill will now go to the same House committee that retained HB 156.

State Senate incumbents: votes on buffer zone repeal & abortion stats

In 2016, the New Hampshire Senate considered and failed to pass bills that would have repealed the buffer zone law and established an abortion-statistics program at the state level.

The senators who managed to get those votes right and who are running for re-election deserve your consideration. These are bellwether bills: a legislator who opposes them is all but certain to be weak or hostile on the right to life.

I know there are other seats, other candidates, and fundamental pro-life policies. Today, my only concern is to list the legislators who supported stats and the First Amendment in the past term in Concord. The Senate had straight up-or-down votes on those two bills.

If you’re not sure who the candidates are in your area, you can check your Senate district number here, and then look at a sample ballot for your town to see the names of the candidates for each office.

Buffer zone

These are the incumbents running for re-election who voted ( via bill #HB 1570) to repeal the buffer zone law, thus respecting your rights and mine to demonstrate peacefully on public property outside abortion facilities. The repeal effort failed on a tie vote.

Jeb Bradley (district 3), Andy Sanborn (district 9), Gary Daniels (district 11), Kevin Avard (district 12), Sharon Carson (district 14), John Reagan (district 17), Regina Birdsell (district 19), and Chuck Morse (district 22). Some House reps who supported the same bill are running for Senate now: James Gray (district 6), Harold French (district 7), Joe Duarte (district 16), and Bill Gannon (district 23).

Reps. French and Gannon are going up against incumbents who voted the opposite way: Sen. Andrew Hosmer vs. French and Rep. Alexis Simpson vs. Gannon.

Bradley is the only senator who supported passage of the buffer zone bill in 2014 and later changed his mind. I’m glad the First Amendment eventually appealed to his better nature.

Note that Kevin Avard is being challenged for his seat by former senator Peggy Gilmour, who voted for the buffer zone law in 2014. Voters gave the seat to Avard later that year. This year’s rematch is fierce and expensive, and it could go either way.

Abortion statistics

Another tie vote doomed an abortion statistics bill (HB 629). The same senators listed above for the buffer zone supported the stats bill: Bradley, Sanborn, Daniels, Avard, Carson, Reagan, Birdsell and Morse. The House passed the bill on a voice vote, so there’s no recorded vote for candidates Gray, French, Duarte and Gannon.

A sobering total

The bills I’ve cited here don’t even assert a right to life. The buffer zone law is about denying First Amendment protections to peaceful pro-life demonstrators, and the repeal bill was an effort to rectify that error. The statistics bill was about public health, particularly women’s health. Tie votes were the best the Senate could muster for them.

The eight incumbent senators and four House candidates for Senate I’ve mentioned cover twelve districts. That’s only half the seats in the Senate. If all these candidates win, things like a stats bill might still die on a tie. If any of these candidates lose, prospects for mischief increase dramatically.

Two other districts to watch

District 18’s Donna Soucy, chief sponsor of the buffer zone law, is being challenged by former Rep. Ross Terrio, chief sponsor of the partial-birth abortion ban that became law in 2012. In district 2, an open seat, former Rep. Bob Giuda is a candidate. He served in the House over a decade ago and had a good pro-life record, including helping to pass New Hampshire’s first parental notification law.