Wednesday hearings: repeal buffer zone, prohibit post-viability abortions

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee will have hearings on Wednesday, February 1, on two bills: HB 578, to prohibit abortions of children of gestational age 21 weeks or more who are determined to be viable, and HB 589, yet another attempt to repeal the useless, unenforced buffer zone bill.

Room 208 of the Legislative Office Building is the location for the hearings. That’s on State Street in Concord, behind the State House. The hearing for HB 578 begins at 10 a.m., and the hearing for HB 589 begins at 11 a.m.

The sponsors of both bills would be grateful for your support at the hearings, whether or not you choose to speak publicly. If you want to testify on one or both bills, fill out a pink card for each bill you want to speak about. You’ll find those cards in the committee room. There will also be sign-in sheets for people who want to register their opinion (pro or con) without offering testimony.

If you email the committee in support of these bills (HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us), copy your message to the chief sponsors: Rep. Keith Murphy (rep.keithmurphy@gmail.com) leads the team on the post-viability abortion bill, and Rep. Kurt Wuelper (kurt.wuelper@leg.state.nh.us) is chief sponsor of buffer zone repeal.

I’ve been writing about the buffer zone law ever since the idea was floated in 2013. Peruse these posts for a review.

As for the post-viability ban, remember that in New Hampshire, abortion is currently legal throughout pregnancy. There is a parental notification law, but that’s about parental rights, and it cannot stop a minor from getting an abortion since there is a judicial bypass provision. We have a partial-birth abortion ban, which simply prohibits a particular abortion method (pulling the child partway out of the mother’s body before killing the child).

Rep. Murphy’s bill to prohibit post-viability abortions provides for the mother’s health, gives wide latitude to the abortion provider to confirm gestational age and viability, and provides that a born-alive child shall receive care. It’s hardly a challenge to Roe v. Wade. In this state, though, with the legislature’s strong pro-abortion bias (remember, the Republican House last year couldn’t even pass a bill to require care for children surviving attempted abortion), it’s pushing the envelope. Good. The envelope needs pushing.

Aftermath: roll calls of selected N.H. House votes

Among hundreds of bills disposed of thus far this year by the New Hampshire House, ten have touched on abortion and one on First Amendment rights outside abortion facilities. All eleven of those bills had roll calls.

Here’s a PDF document I’ve prepared, listing all eleven votes. To view it on your own device where you can enlarge the document, click on the “download” link below the image.  (Alternatively, depending on your browser, you may see a box in the upper right corner of the image that will allow you to click for a pop-up view.) See the provisos below, which you need to take into consideration as you view the data.

Selected NH House votes, 2016

You can confirm these and other roll call votes on the legislative dashboard of the New Hampshire legislative web page.  You can identify your own district’s representatives on that site as well.

A few provisos

First, while this is an advocacy blog, it is not an advocacy PAC. Second, the interpretation of the votes is my own and is admittedly subjective. I use an open circle to designate what I see in broad terms as a pro-life vote and an “x” to indicate the opposite. Each column is headed with a brief explanation of the bill and the motion that received a roll call. You may decide that the inclusion of a bill with exceptions is inappropriate, but bear with me. I’ll explain in the notes below why I listed that bill.

Third, be aware that these votes occurred on only two session days, so someone with an excused absence on (for example) March 9 would naturally miss many of the votes. Fourth, these eleven bills don’t cover the full spectrum of right-to-life issues – no death penalty votes here, for example, since the House killed death penalty expansion this year on a voice vote. Finally, you won’t find a “score” for any representative on the sheet.

How many of these bills survived to move on to the Senate?

Only one, repeal of the buffer zone (HB 1570), made it past the House.

What’s with all the “not voting” notes?

“Not voting” means that the representative did not have an excused absence for the day or half-day as reported to the House clerk in advance. The only way to confirm why your reps missed one or more votes is to ask them. 

Yes, some reps make a point of bailing out when abortion is the issue. There are other reasons for missing votes, though. The March 9 bills, for example, were voted on between 5 and 8 p.m. at the end of a session that began at 9 a.m. Late in the day, responsibilities to families or employment (remember that reps earn only $100 per year for their service) can prompt representatives to leave the State House.

Did a rape-and-incest exception gain or lose any votes?

There were three bills to restrict mid- and late-term abortions. One of them, HB 1328, would have instituted a 20-week limit with an exception for abortions following rape or incest. The other bills would have limited abortions at viability (HB 1625) and at the point where the preborn child can feel pain (HB 1636). Was there any tactical advantage to including exceptions in one of the bills?

Not that I could see. Only seven representatives voted FOR the bill with exceptions and AGAINST the other two mid- and late-term bills. On the other hand, twelve representatives did the opposite, opposing the exceptions bill while supporting the HB 1625 and HB 1636.

Privacy amendment: more information needed

More than a dozen representatives with strong pro-life records, some extending back years, voted in favor of CACR 22, the proposed constitutional amendment on privacy. That earned an “x” from me. Shortly before the vote, attorneys with national experience warned that such amendments had been used in other states to expand abortion and overturn existing regulations. I and others reported our concern.

Before any such amendment comes back – and you can bet that it will, in a future session – written documentation of the misuse of privacy amendments in other states needs to be in the hands of legislators. A majority of representatives supported the amendment, but a three-fifths vote was necessary for passage.

First Amendment protection: a narrow victory

The Senate will get the buffer zone repeal bill after the House passed it 160-152. That’s too close for comfort. Sixty representatives were “not voting” on that one. Support for First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses shouldn’t depend on who shows up in Representatives Hall on a given day.

Genetic abnormality as a reason for abortion: a troubling vote

HB 1623, prohibiting abortion for reasons of fetal genetic abnormality, got a lopsided thumbs-down. Two hundred twenty-four reps voted to kill the bill. Anyone concerned about the rights of disabled human beings ought to give that vote some thought.

Notable consistency

At high risk of annoying some reps who might have missed votes for a good reason or who chose to support CACR 22, I think it’s worth noting who was present for all eleven votes, and who from my point of view voted soundly on each one.  As it happens, all are Republicans. (Anyone looking for straight “x”s can peruse the PDF and will find all Democrats with one exception: the GOP rep from Pelham who once stated in committee that handing a woman a pamphlet could be an act of violence.)

Thumbs up to these state representatives:

  • Belknap County: Brian Gallagher, Shari LeBreche.
  • Carroll County: Frank McCarthy, Glenn Cordelli, Bill Nelson.
  • Grafton County: Eric Johnson, Paul Ingbretson, Duane Brown.
  • Hillsborough County: Rick Christie, Linda Gould, Victoria Sullivan, Jeanine Notter, Eric Eastman, Carl Seidel, Edith Hogan, Jordan Ulery.
  • Merrimack County: J.R. Hoell.
  • Rockingham County: Bruce Hodgdon, James Spillane, Lawrence “Mike” Kappler, William Gannon, Chris True, Al Baldasaro, David Bates, John Sytek, Jeffrey Harris, Dan Itse, Dennis Green.
  • Strafford County: Leonard Turcotte, Warren Groen, Thomas Kaczynski Jr.