Griffin’s Law: twelve senators said no

CAM00397As I reported on Twitter (@leaven4theloaf) and Facebook, the New Hampshire Senate twice rejected versions of Griffin’s Law before tabling it earlier today. Griffin, the lost grandson of Rep. Leon Rideout, inspired debate but no resolution. There will be no fetal homicide law in New Hampshire this year without a change of heart by at least two senators. Make that two senators and one governor, although the Senate spared Gov. Hassan a decision on vetoing the bill.

The facts

Griffin’s Law, HB 1503, was amended and passed by the House. The amended language was for all practical purposes nongermane, removing the fetal homicide language. When HB 1503 reached the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee voted 3-2 to restore the original language. That’s what came to the Senate floor today.

The Senate has 24 members: 13 Republican, 11 Democrat. Democratic Sen. Andrew Hosmer of Laconia (district 7) was absent today, so 23 votes were cast. Griffin’s Law would have needed twelve to pass today.

First came a motion to table the bill before debate began. That was swiftly defeated. Next was a motion to pass the bill as the committee recommended, using Rep. Leon Rideout’s original language. That motion failed on a vote of 10-13. Another amendment was introduced to make the law apply only late in pregnancy – at “viability.” That only swayed one vote; the amendment failed 11-12. Finally, the bill was tabled on a 21-2 vote.

The senators

Every Democratic senator present, along with two Republicans, voted against both versions of HB 1503 that were presented today. Let it never be said that fetal homicide is a partisan issue. Here they are: Senators Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton, district 1), David Watters (D-Dover, Dist.4), David Pierce (D-Lebanon, dist. 5), Bob Odell (R-Lempster, dist. 8), Molly Kelly (D-Keene, dist. 10), Peggy Gilmour (D-Hollis, dist. 12), Bette Lasky (D-Nashua, dist. 13), Sylvia Larsen (D-Concord, dist. 15), Donna Soucy (D-Manchester, dist. 18), Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester, dist. 20), Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth, dist. 21), and Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton, dist. 24).

One Republican senator voted against the committee version of the bill but supported a bill that would have applied at “viability” of the preborn child: Senator Jim Rausch of Derry (district 19).

Ten senators, all Republicans, voted Yes on both versions: Senators Jeanie Forrester (Meredith, district 2), Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro, dist. 3), Sam Cataldo (Farmington, dist. 6), Andy Sanborn (Bedford, dist. 9), Peter Bragdon (Milford, dist. 11), Sharon Carson (Londonderry, dist. 14), David Boutin (Manchester, dist. 16), John Reagan (Deerfield, dist. 17), Chuck Morse (Salem, dist. 22), and Russell Prescott (Kingston, dist. 23).

Who spoke up – and who suddenly discovered science

Senators Cataldo, Carson and Bradley led the debate, defending the bill to their colleagues. Carson and Cataldo are on the Judiciary Committee, and they explained their restoration of the original language of the bill even in the face of the House’s gutting of it.

Bradley, the Majority Leader, introduced the viability language, which was actually proposed by former Democratic Senator Matthew Houde a couple of years ago during the last attempt at a fetal homicide bill. Ironically, Houde’s language was rejected by his colleagues at the time because it didn’t go far enough. The consequences of the 2012 election were all over today’s debate.

Senator Stiles spoke of “scientific inaccuracies” in the bill, including an “ambiguous” definition of “fetus.” Senator Gilmour, a nurse by training and experience, called the bill “flawed” and said (incorrectly) that it would interfere with treatment for ectopic pregnancy. Senator Watters fretted over the bill’s reference to “basic attributes” of the human species and the definition of “sustained extrauterine survival.”

Stiles, Gilmour, and Watters are all abortion advocates, so much so that it was news when Stiles supported the partial-birth abortion ban now in New Hampshire law. If Griffin’s mother Ashlyn Rideout had wanted to terminate her pregnancy, none of those senators would have brought up anything about science, including fetal development. Ashlyn’s “choice” would have been all they needed to know. But since Ashlyn’s little boy Griffin was wanted, the senators have to bring in all the concern for science and accuracy that they happily throw to the winds when the mother’s “choice” is to stop being a mother.

The lobbyist for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union watched the debate silently from the gallery. NHCLU opposes fetal homicide legislation. Their lobbyist is obviously pregnant. I hope her employers respect her choice more than they did Ashlyn’s.

Same time, next year?

It’s technically possible for the Senate to remove the bill from the table later this session, but no one will move to do so without a guarantee of thirteen votes either way. Fetal-homicide-bill opponents don’t want to bring it up for an inexpedient-to-legislate motion and then lose.

After the vote, two senators stopped to talk to me and said they’d like to bring this legislation back next year. That’s one election away. Griffin’s family will be back, too.

[photo of New Hampshire Senate chamber by Leon Rideout]

Related posts:

Rep. Rideout: “Why I’m filing Griffin’s Law”

“We’re on a crusade”

When chivalry isn’t enough

Lynch vetoes fetal homicide bill (2012)

Veto override falls just short (2012)