Three reasons for Governor Sununu to sign buffer zone repeal

After protracted debate, including attempts to attach two non-germane amendments, the New Hampshire Senate has passed the buffer zone repeal bill, HB 1625. The vote was 12-11, in spite of Governor Chris Sununu’s veto threat. Twelve of 14 Republicans voted to pass the bill. While the bill’s docket hasn’t yet been updated with the official roll call, news reports indicate that Sen. Hennessey (R-Littleton) voted with the chamber’s ten Democrats, and Sen. Reagan (R-Deerfield) was absent.

The Governor has not detailed his reasons for opposing buffer zone repeal. Perhaps it’s tied up with a wish to look more “pro-choice,” a label he wears with pride. In any case, his determination to veto the bill flies in the face of a written commitment he made in 2016. (More about that later.)

He can still do the right thing and sign HB 1625. He has good reasons to do so. You can call his office at (603) 271-2121 with a quick message, or email him with longer comments.

The Supreme Court’s McCullen decision

One would think that the Governor’s legal team might have read McCullen v. Coakley, but I am beginning to have my doubts.

There is such a thing as a “constitutional” buffer zone law, in the eyes of U.S. Courts. New Hampshire’s law isn’t one of them. It is modeled on the Massachusetts buffer zone law that was thrown out by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court – yes, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – back in 2014’s McCullen case, days after the New Hampshire law was signed by then-Governor Hassan.

The Massachusetts law was thrown out on narrow grounds, which happen to apply to our situation in New Hampshire. In an effort to accommodate abortion providers who didn’t want pro-life witnesses outside their facilities, Massachusetts had failed to enforce more targeted and less restrictive laws before going after the pro-lifers’ First Amendment free-speech rights. Here’s Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court: “Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi­tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.

“Without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives” is exactly where New Hampshire stands. It’s exactly why New Hampshire abortion providers have never yet posted a buffer zone. There is no record with any law enforcement agency of repeated arrests, never mind convictions, of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities. It would require such a record to justify infringement of First Amendment rights.

Again, Chief Justice Roberts: “To meet the requirement of narrow tailoring, the government must demonstrate that alterna­tive measures that burden substantially less speech would fail to achieve the government’s interests, not simply that the chosen route is easier. A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.”

Whether using a painted line as in Massachusetts or a printed sign as prescribed in New Hampshire’s law, McCullen applies.

The cost of litigation

After Massachusetts lost the McCullen case, the pro-life plaintiffs quite reasonably sought to recover their legal fees. A settlement agreement reached six months after the Supreme Court decision resulted in Massachusetts having to pay up, to the tune of $1.24 million. That’s on top of whatever the Commonwealth spent in the years-long effort to win its case.

Governor Sununu is steward of the New Hampshire treasury. I doubt defending a McCullen-style law is what he means to do with your tax dollars. It would be much wiser to get the McCullen-style law out of New Hampshire statutes.

Sununu’s 2016 commitment to support buffer zone repeal

Perhaps even more persuasive than the preceding two reasons is the third one, which speaks to the Governor’s character.

When Chris Sununu first ran for governor in 2016, pro-life voters were concerned. Like the Democrat on the ballot, he called himself “pro-choice.” After hearing from concerned Republicans, the message went out a few days before the November election that there were a few policies he could support. One of them was repeal of the buffer zone law. He put that in writing.

I provided his statement in a post in November 2016: A concerned Republican and Sununu’s reply

In the same message, he said he could support a late-term abortion ban. He did so when he signed last year’s budget, which contained the Fetal Life Protection Act – and now he intends to walk that back, by announcing his intention to sign HB 1609 adding a post-24-week eugenic exception to FLPA.

It’s possible that as a popular governor with a lot of political capital to spend, he has decided to repudiate his 2016 statement. Maybe his political calculus does not take pro-lifers into account. Maybe he thinks we’re politically negligible.

Are you willing to prove him wrong?

Remember: (603) 271-2121. Second floor of the State House, if you want to deliver a written message to the reception staff. Use that “share your opinion” page on his website. Get some friends together and write postcards, addressed to the Governor at 107 North State Street, Concord NH, 03301. Cite one reason for him to sign HB 1625, or cite all three, or simply say “please sign buffer zone repeal.”

Governor Sununu is listening to abortion advocates. He needs to be listening to his own better nature – the one he gave us a glimpse of in 2016.

post header photo: Scott Graham/Unsplash

Post-veto, a clarifying moment on Twitter

Yes, Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the odious abortion insurance mandate. I’ve thanked him. I hope readers will do likewise.

Nothing in the veto changes his attitude toward abortion. The veto indicated respect for those who disagree with him, just as it indicated concern that the mandate would have cost the state money. That’s as far as it goes.

Three people came together in a Twitter exchange a few hours after the veto to clear this up for pro-life voters.

First, this from Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord, @DanFeltesNH), who hopes to get the Democratic nomination for Governor this fall. He pitched his customary reproductive-rights spiel. “Despite claiming to be pro-choice, @GovChrisSununu has repeatedly turned his back on reproductive health care access. Today, Sununu sided with insurance companies and the far-right over Granite State women and denied them affordable access to safe, legal abortion. #nhpolitics”

Mere minutes later came this reply from a gentleman working for the Governor’s re-election (@brvihsta), formerly on the Governor’s staff. He helpfully pointed out that Planned Parenthood has not suffered under the Governor’s leadership, despite the fact that he has disappointed them twice in five years (more about that here, under “an interesting anniversary”). “He is pro-choice. The vast majority of insurance plans already cover these services, & all this bill would have done is jeopardized federal funding during a pandemic. @ChrisSununu has brought forward state contracts for Planned Parenthood *every year* as Governor. #nhpolitics”

A state representative (@prudhommeobrien) summed it up well in her reply to Mr. Vihstadt. She does not trash the Governor, nor has she ever done so in my hearing. She is a thoughtful individual. But she does have a habit of calling things as she sees ’em. “I see. So even when he throws pro-lifers a bone, he tries to hit them in the face with it.”

Ouch. But yes.

Gratitude for the veto is a good thing. It’s downright essential, in my book. Acknowledgment of the conscience rights of Granite Staters is always refreshing to see.

Maybe that’ll extend to keeping tax dollars away from abortion providers someday.

Perhaps that’s a conversation to be had on the campaign trail.

Abortion Insurance Mandate On Its Way to Governor Sununu

The New Hampshire House voted today to concur with the Senate’s abortion insurance mandate. Following an administrative procedure known as enrollment, HB 685 will go to Governor Chris Sununu. He has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the measure.

The Governor’s office can be reached at (603) 271-2121. I’ll be asking for a veto of HB 685.

The House vote on concurrence was 196-132. A “Yea” supported advancing the insurance mandate, despite the fact that the House had held no hearing on the bill as amended.

As previously reported, HB 685 was amended by the Senate to remove its original language on a different topic, replacing it with an abortion insurance mandate. The House violated its own rules (#45-b, if anyone asks) by taking up the amended bill at all, never mind concurring with the Senate’s changes.

If HB 685 becomes law, you will be helping to subsidize abortion if you are an insurance provider covered by the bill, if you are a business owner who offers health insurance as a benefit to employees under a policy covered by this bill, and if you are an individual paying premiums for a policy covered by this bill.

Conscience rights were dismissed by the House and Senate majorities when they voted on HB 685 as amended. Will the Governor take the same approach?

Earlier posts on HB 685: Second Abortion Insurance Mandate Bill Created in Rushed Process, House to Vote on Abortion Insurance Mandate

The Rest of the Veto Day 2012: Partial-Birth Ban is Law, Fetal Homicide Falls Just Short

The House’s override of the HB 1679 veto (partial-birth) augured well for the day. The Senate followed suit a little later, on an 18-5 straight-party-line vote. The bill is due to go into effect next January 1, although I have a sneaking suspicion that someone will try to enjoin it.

This is an enormous victory. I’ve spent enough time in the trenches to know one when I see one.

Fetal homicide, HB 217, fell short on a vote of 201-126. A majority in the House, to be sure, but not quite the two-thirds needed to send it to the Senate. Reps. Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester) and Warren Groen (R-Rochester) argued for the bill today on the House floor. Governor Lynch got spanked today, with several of his vetoes being overturned, so he may be particularly gratified that he managed to make this one stick.

Dominick Emmons and his mother got no justice today. I told their story in an earlier post.

The death of Dominick Emmons led to the Lamy case in which the state supreme court called on the legislature to clean up the state laws regarding the death of a fetus. Most of the legislators were willing to do that, despite Governor Lynch’s veto. The override vote was complicated when RESOLVE, a national support group for families dealing with infertility, teamed up with NARAL to hand out anti-HB217 flyers to legislators this morning.

Huh?

You read that right. After the bill had its Senate hearing but before the original Senate vote, abortion advocates went to work looking for allies. The usual suspects – PPNNE, NARAL – found a threat to Roe v. Wade where none existed, and they managed to whip up fear that a fetal homicide law would stop in vitro fertilization and other forms of assisted reproduction. That WOULD NOT HAPPEN under HB 217, for the simple reason that the bill includes language exempting from prosecution anyone acting with a woman’s consent – even a lab tech discarding surplus embryos (children)  from IVF.

I wonder if some of the pro-life women struggling with infertility know that RESOLVE has made common cause with abortion advocates to fight fetal homicide laws. Next time, sponsors will need to keep that in mind as they build the coalition that will get this legislation over the top next time it’s introduced.

Raise your glass and toast the reps who refused to fall for the fear factor – especially Kathy Souza, who has been promoting fetal homicide legislation for a couple of decades now, since long before she was a state rep. Manchester ward 4 can be proud of her.

To Undecided Reps, Rx for Fear: Read the Bills

As I checked my Twitter feed recently, the oft-quoted axiom came to mind about a lie getting halfway around the world before truth gets its pants on. An overwrought writer responded to a tweet I wrote for Cornerstone, in which I urged the New Hampshire legislature to override Governor Lynch’s vetoes of the partial-birth and fetal-homicide bills, by tweeting “Who cares if women die! Protect the fetus, so you can ignore it once it’s born.#christiantaliban”

I am not enough at home in the Twitterverse to wage effective rhetorical war 140 characters at a time. Yet I cannot back off completely. My Twitter scold, whoever she or he is, is not conveying the truth. Neither did the governor in his veto messages. Representatives and senators can choose to make their decisions based on fact instead of fear when they consider overriding the vetoes on the 27th. Read the bills.

A recent veto message by Governor Lynch on a school choice bill contained an erroneous claim. Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center called out the governor for his “factually incorrect veto.” Arlinghaus concluded with the stinging admonition, “Read it before you veto it.”  In a second school-choice veto three days later, the governor based his objections on what was actually in the second bill. I only wish there had been two fetal homicide bills so the governor would have had a chance to correct himself again.

In vetoing the fetal homicide bill, Governor Lynch falsely claimed that “this legislation … would allow the State of New Hampshire to prosecute a pregnant woman”.  The governor missed the plain language of  HB 217: “nothing in [this bill] shall apply to any act committed by the woman pregnant with the fetus”. In fact, HB 217 would not apply to any pregnancy termination caused by any person acting with the consent of the mother.

And then there’s the partial-birth abortion ban. “Who cares if women die?” Everyone cares, except those who unfortunately don’t want to hear about abortion-related maternal deaths. Remember, self-proclaimed reproductive choice advocates  fought this year to block a separate bill requiring the state to collect abortion statistics, so we all could get some authoritative information about how many women and girls suffer post-abortion complications. (That bill, HB 1680, was passed after being amended to authorize study of the idea.)

The governor wrote in his veto message that the HB 1679’s two-physician requirement for emergency situations could cause a delay that might harm a pregnant woman. No. Even if HB1679 passes, any one physician would continue to be able to terminate a woman’s pregnancy, at any point in the pregnancy, by any method he or she finds appropriate except partial-birth, in which the fetus is partially extracted from the woman’s body before being “terminated.”

Back to Twitter: “Protect the fetus, so you can ignore it once it’s born.” How does HB 1679 protect a fetus? The bill’s opponents are afraid there’s some anti-Roe monster in the closet. Not in this one, there isn’t. A woman’s right to choose abortion is unaffected.  Claims to the contrary are false. Read the bill.

As for “#christiantaliban”, no one concerned with truth could have written that. It’s catchy, though, and is probably halfway around the world as I write, along with the false claims that these bills will harm women.

The truth is still putting its pants on, so to speak. It’s right there, though, in the bills. The fears expressed by the governor and the hapless tweeter are groundless. The facts won’t change between now and the 27th.