House committee deflects attack on Fetal Life Protection Act

HB 1609, an attempt by six Republican legislators to weaken the 18-day old Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA), got a cool reception in the New Hampshire House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs (HHS) Committee on Tuesday.

After hearing testimony, the committee voted 11-10 along party lines to throw out the original text of HB 1609 and replace it with language clarifying the ultrasound provision of FLPA. The original sponsor of FLPA, Rep. Beth Folsom (R-Wentworth), drafted the adopted amendment which says in part that the ultrasound provision in New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion limit “shall be construed to require the performance of an ultrasound only if the provider either knows that the fetus has a gestational age of at least 24 weeks or is conscious of a substantial risk that the fetus has a gestational age of at least 24 weeks.”

“Let’s fix the misunderstanding,” said Folsom, referring to false claims by abortion advocates that FLPA mandates ultrasounds before any abortion.

The amended version adopted by the committee clarifies and reaffirms FLPA with its 24-week abortion limit, without weakening the law. That’s the version that will go to the full House for a vote within a few weeks.

The original version of HB 1609, rejected by the committee, would have repealed an ultrasound requirement altogether, and would have allowed late-term abortion of children with disabilities or who were conceived in rape or incest. “This legislation is not pro-abortion,” said Rep. Dan Wolf (R-Newbury), one of 1609’s sponsors, in spite of the fact that expanding abortion is exactly what his bill would have done.

Testimony: strongly against HB 1609 as introduced

In a hearing that ran well past its allotted time, only two people testified in favor of HB 1609 as introduced, without reservation: sponsors Reps.Wolf and John Graham (R-Bedford). Governor Sununu submitted a letter to the committee expressing his support for the bill, although no one from his office offered oral testimony.

Former state senator Matthew Houde, now vice-president for government relations for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, testified that D-H supported some of HB 1609 as introduced but found “it doesn’t go far enough” to change FLPA. That was as close as the sponsors could get to winning over anyone at the hearing.

On the other hand, twenty people at the hearing testified against HB 1609 as introduced.

Among the speakers were people unwilling to write off children with “fetal anomalies,” a term favored by abortion advocates who don’t want to be accused of practicing eugenics by aborting human beings with adverse prenatal diagnoses. Some women testified to how they felt pressured during pregnancy by medical personnel who counseled abortion when a child received an adverse diagnosed in utero. They also testified to how some of those diagnoses had been wrong.

A woman spoke of the man for whom she has long been a caregiver. At birth, doctors expected him to be dead within six months due to his disabilities. That man is now 50 years old, despite the dire predictions made at his birth.

An assault survivor gently chided a legislator who spoke of late-term abortion as something that must be available to rape survivors.

A woman with more than 40 years of experience in health care urged the committee to reject the original language of 1609, saying “abortion doesn’t fix the violation” of sexual assault.

Rep. Folsom was particularly courageous as one of the last committee members to speak before the vote. Her committee colleague Rep. Joseph Schapiro (D-Keene) explained that he wouldn’t vote for Folsom’s “well-intentioned” amendment because he was concerned it didn’t take into account the difficulties experienced by survivors of rape and incest. Rep. Folsom quietly informed him that she herself is a rape survivor. “I’ve never told anyone this in public. I do understand what someone goes through when they’ve been raped. And I have had to make some decisions. It’s not easy…. The counseling that helped me move forward in my life was counseling for the rape.”

When testimony was complete and the committee went into executive session to vote on the bill, Rep. James MacKay (D-Concord) expressed concern that “the other side” hadn’t had a chance to speak. It’s unclear what “other side” he meant, since everyone present who signed up to speak was allowed to do so, even though that meant bumping other hearings to a later time. Quite simply, the sponsors of HB 1609 couldn’t round up many supporters for the in-person hearing.

Party lines?

While the committee’s vote was party-line, with Republicans in the majority, it is clear that weakening the FPLA was the goal of the six other Republicans who introduced HB 1609. The Governor apparently sides with those six.

Rep. Len Turcotte read a terse statement from the House Majority Office (GOP) opposing the bill as introduced.

Now that HB 1609 has been amended in a manner that strengthens and clarifies the FLPA instead of gutting it, will Republicans unite in supporting it?

There’s no sign of dispute among House Democrats at this point. Nothing that keeps FLPA intact will get their support. (I’ll be happy to take note of any Democrat breaking ranks on that.) On Tuesday, all 10 Democrats on House HHS voted against HB 1609 as amended. Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom) said during the hearing that the original version of HB 1609 “removed troublesome language” from FPLA, but once the bill was amended, he said it didn’t go far enough.

“Give it more than ten business days”

Amid more than two hours of testimony on the substance of HB 1609, some procedural arguments came up. One in particular struck me, courtesy of Upper Valley resident Margaret Drye, whose good sense has struck me before. She pointed out that FLPA went into effect only a few weeks ago, on January 1. Why the rush to weaken it? “Give it more than ten business days,” she advised the legislators.

I commend that thought to the Governor.

Video of the hearing may be viewed on YouTube: NH House of Representatives Committee Streaming, House Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs, 1/18/22. The hearing (testimony and executive session) for HB 1609 begins at 20:35 and ends at 3:07:30.

Post edited to correct number of co-sponsors.

Dueling rallies in Washington over Dobbs case

While the Dobbs case was being argued at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 1, two rallies were taking place outside. I went to Washington for the day in order to stand with the people calling on the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and its cousin Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Dobbs is about a Mississippi law setting a 15-week limit on abortions. May a state regulate abortion before viability? The Supreme Court might say yes or no. It might use the case to overrule Roe, or it might make a narrow ruling that OKs the Mississippi law while somehow keeping Roe and Casey in place. We’ll find out by the end of next June.

There were about two thousand people standing in front of the Supreme Court building on December 1, roughly evenly divided between pro-life and pro-Roe. A crowd-control fence divided the two groups, although there was plenty of peaceful passage back and forth. Capitol Police kept an eye on things.

It was a noisy gathering. Each side had about three hours worth of speakers, with mics and loudspeakers. There were chants and songs and shouts. Despite the sound system, I couldn’t make out many words on either side because of the ambient noise. Anyone following the live-streamed rallies remotely probably heard more speakers than I did.

It was worth listening later to a recording of Kathryn Jean Lopez’s speech. I recommend it. https://youtu.be/4ymvmIiaiO8

I met up with a group from Feminists for Life to pick up a sign. Just about every other pro-life group I’ve ever heard of, plus a few I hadn’t, was represented in the crowd. The diversity was great, as though speakers at the side rallies at the annual March for Life had been suddenly handed the keys to the main stage. The only thing we all had in common was a determination to move past Roe.

placard saying "Peace begins in the womb"
The sign I carried outside the Supreme Court, courtesy of Feminists for Life: Peace begins in the womb.

Pro-life policies in state budget: victory with an expiration date (UPDATED)

Update, 7/8/21: I am indebted to an attorney well-versed in pro-life policy who called me out on claiming that the language cited below would expire in two years. Instead, I’ll try for more clarity: it’s possible that it might not survive the next budget process. More about that below, in boldface.

For the first time since 1997, New Hampshire has a law limiting late-term abortion. Well, we’ll have one as of next January 1, and it may only be good – I said “may” – until the expiration of the budget on June 30, 2023. Still, after nearly a quarter-century, the Granite State will move ahead past the era of unregulated abortion.

I wondered if flipping the House and Senate would make a difference. Turns out it did.

It has taken me a couple of weeks to process this news. It’s stunning to me, as someone who was an activist even before 1997, to see this victory. Our pro-choice governor kept the word he gave in 2016. Pro-life reps worked to get pro-life language into the budget, after the Senate stalled a freestanding bill that would have done the job. Some pro-life budget conferees – who were Republicans, as it happens – wouldn’t let the provision be tossed out during budget negotiations.

We still don’t have abortion statistics, or a requirement that only medical personnel provide abortions (remember that the next time someone tells you abortion is a private “medical” decision), or conscience protection for health care workers who choose not to participate in the direct intentional termination of human life.

We can bet that the pro-life provisions in this budget will be up for debate and rejection in two years when the next budget is crafted. We can bet that the people promoting unregulated abortion will be fighting back, and in fact are doing so already.

So who wants it more? Do pro-life Granite Staters want to build on this victory?

Continue reading “Pro-life policies in state budget: victory with an expiration date (UPDATED)”

Life-issue bills: NH Senate to vote on committee recommendations this week

The New Hampshire Senate will meet Thursday, May 27 at 10 a.m. to consider Judiciary Committee recommendations on two life-issue bills.

HB 625, Fetal Life Protection Act

The Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 along party lines (GOP majority) to recommend Ought to Pass with Amendment on HB 625, concerning late-term abortions.

The committee – including Sen. William Gannon – did not recommend adding an exception for eugenic abortion. (See this blog’s earlier report on the bill.) Cornerstone Action, which favors HB 625, posted a report worth reading in full, outlining the committee’s actions and giving a call to action.

From the Cornerstone message: Contact your Senator now and ask him or her to support a floor amendment adopting—at minimum—the severability and ‘physician requirement’ sections of the Birdsell amendment. These changes are critical to protecting the bill [HB 625], both in court and against a possible veto.

HB 233, Born-Alive Infant Protection

A born-alive infant protection bill will not pass the year, with the Senate Judiciary Committee voting to re-refer HB 233.

Re-referral is the Senate’s version of what the House calls “retaining” a bill. The procedure keeps a bill in committee for the remainder of the calendar year, preventing a full-Senate vote until 2022.

The Senate’s May 27 session will be streamed online at http://sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00286/Harmony/en/View/Calendar/20210527/-1. This link will not be live until the session begins.

Recent House roll calls: limiting late-term abortion, HB 625

The New Hampshire House voted 191-160 to pass HB 625, limiting abortions after 24 weeks’ gestation, with an exception for a mother’s medical emergency. The roll call is on the General Court website.

Contact information for representatives is on the General Court site as well. Thank-yous where they’re due would undoubtedly be welcomed.

A few notes

Committee recommendation overturned

Before voting on an “Ought to Pass” motion, the House had to take up the Judiciary Committee’s 11-10 recommendation of “Inexpedient to Legislate.” The House overturned the committee recommendation, as it later did with the committee’s ITL recommendation for HB 233 (born-alive protection).

No walkout

Unlike with the born-alive protection bill, there was no walkout by HB 625’s opponents. Only thirteen representatives are on the roll call as “Not Voting.”

Protecting born-alive children triggered a walkout by some House members, while limiting abortion did not. Interesting contrast there.

I have a separate post on the born-alive vote.

Party lines

The vote was generally along party lines, with Republicans in the majority. The exceptions are noted here.

Three Democrats joined 188 Republicans in voting “Ought to Pass (OTP)”: Richard Ames (Jaffrey), Stacie-Marie Laughton (Nashua), and John Mann (Alstead).

Fourteen Republicans joined 146 Democrats in opposing the OTP motion: James Allard (Pittsfield), Lex Berezhny (Grafton), Joseph Depalma IV (Littleton), Oliver Ford (Chester), Edward “Ned” Gordon (Bristol; Chairman of House Judiciary; voted against bill in committee), John Hunt (Rindge), John Lewicke (Mason), Norman Major (Plaistow), James Mason (Franklin), Russell Ober (Hudson), Diane Pauer (Brookline), Andrew Prout (Hudson), Dan Wolf (Newbury), and Josh Yokela (Fremont).

Next step

HB 625 will head to the Senate, where Republicans hold a 14-10 majority. As seen with the House roll call, though, party lines won’t necessarily hold.

Header photo by Dan Evans/Pixabay.