Activists of the year, and other 2014 highlights

It’s my good fortune as a pro-life blogger to meet amazing and inspirational people in the course of my travels throughout New Hampshire. With gratitude, I recognize a few of them here, along with some notable 2014 happenings.

Activists of the year: the “buffer zone” challengers

Honorable mention: the family of Griffin Donald Kenison

Honorable mention: NH’s 40 Days for Life teams

The buffer zone challengers

The ill-advised passage of a law to nullify the First Amendment within “up to 25 feet” of New Hampshire abortion facilities – with the precise perimeter to be left up to the discretion of abortion providers – forced pro-life citizens to turn to the courts for relief. Seven people, represented by pro-life and pro-First-Amendment attorneys, are taking up the challenge.

Michael Tierney (facebook.com photo)
Michael Tierney (facebook.com photo)

For the third year in a row, Manchester attorney Michael Tierney has made his way onto my end-of-the-year highlight reel. This year, he is representing the seven plaintiffs in Reddy v. Foster, seeking to have the “buffer zone” law overturned. Tierney, along with attorneys Michael DePrimo and Mark Rienzi, is working with Alliance Defending Freedom to vindicate the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities.

Each plaintiff is exceptional, quite independent of this court case. All other gifts and callings to one side, though, they are committed to the dignity of every pregnant woman and preborn child. They have courage to live out that message in prayer on the abortion facilities’ sidewalks. They have the guts to challenge the state government, which includes a governor, attorney general, fourteen senators and 162 House members who ought to be ashamed of themselves. The plaintiffs are Sister Mary Rose Reddy, Sue Clifton, Jennifer Robidoux, Joan Espinola, Terry Barnum, Jackie Pelletier, and Betty Buzzell.

A lie was repeated over and over during testimony in support of the now-challenged law: any pro-life presence outside an abortion facility is in itself an act of violence, no different in nature than a physical assault on abortion-minded women and abortion workers. Nothing short of a buffer zone law could protect “safety and balance,” as sponsor Sen. Donna Soucy calmly intoned at each hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that claim when in June it threw out the Massachusetts law on which the New Hampshire law was based, saying that when less-restrictive laws have not yet been enforced outside abortion facilities (laws like disorderly conduct, for example), nullification of the First Amendment cannot be tolerated. Governor Maggie Hassan signed New Hampshire’s law after the Supreme Court decision, underscoring the radical pro-abortion extremism that animated the law’s supporters.

The seven challengers to the law are quietly putting extremists on notice: peaceful pro-life witness is here to stay.

The Kenison and Rideout families

The efforts by the family of little Griffin Kenison to get fetal homicide legislation enacted were nothing short of awesome.

Rep. Leon Rideout (facebook.com/rideout4rep)
Rep. Leon Rideout (facebook.com/rideout4rep)

When a woman loses a wanted pregnancy because of the actions of a negligent or impaired driver, or an abusive partner, or any other kind of assault, must the preborn child’s assailant answer to the community via criminal law? More than three dozen states say yes, in the form of fetal homicide laws. Those laws, the provisions of which vary somewhat from state to state, call for charges not only for injury of death to the woman, but for the death of her preborn child as well.

New Hampshire is not one of those states. Several times in the past twenty years, fetal homicide legislation has been introduced in Concord. It came close to passage in 2012, falling to a veto by then-Governor John Lynch. This year, another bill was introduced. This time, it was personal: Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster called his bill “Griffin’s Law” in honor of his grandson. Rideout’s daughter Ashlyn was 7½ months pregnant when an automobile collision forced her child’s premature delivery. The child, Griffin, could not survive his injuries sustained in the collision. The driver responsible for the collision faced no charge in the child’s death.

Griffin’s extended family trooped down to Concord from New Hampshire’s North Country for hearings and floor votes. They wore t-shirts and distributed ribbons in Griffin’s honor. Griffin’s parents, Ashlyn Rideout and Daniel Kenison, sat quietly with Ashlyn’s mother Cora and listened as Rep. Rideout testified. Grandmother Shirley Kenison Ward delivered powerful, memorable testimony. I don’t have all the names of the family members who were there, but I honor each one of those people who came to remember Griffin. They came from a distance, taking time off work, speaking volumes with their very presence.

Those voices fell on too many ears attuned to the testimony of abortion advocates. This is not an abortion bill. It refers only to wanted pregnancies. One might think that being pro-choice would include respecting a woman’s choice to carry a child to term. Not really, apparently. Abortion advocates perceive threats to Roe v. Wade where none exist – extremism warps one’s view – and they fought Griffin’s Law, saying that recognizing Griffin as a child would somehow compromise abortion rights. The legislative class of 2012 was amenable to that nonsense.

The legislators elected in 2014 have a chance to rectify things. Griffin’s Law is back for 2015, once again sponsored by Rep. Rideout. The makeup of the legislature has changed. Governor Hassan just might find this one on her desk. It’ll be foolish to bet against a fetal homicide law if the Kenisons and Rideouts persist in what grandmother Shirley called “a crusade.”

The 40 Days for Life teams

40DFL volunteers in Greenland, NH
40DFL volunteers in Greenland, NH

Dianne Braley in Greenland and Jennifer Robidoux in Manchester led 40 Days for Life campaigns this year. There’s no question in my mind that the push for the buffer zone law had a chilling effect on pro-life witness in our state. These women went ahead in faith anyway, each bringing together a supportive leadership team to see the campaigns through. (Yes, that’s the same Jennifer Robidoux who’s a plaintiff in the buffer zone suit.)

In a political atmosphere of pronounced hostility to peaceful pro-life witness, Dianne and Jen simply went about their business of recruiting people to stand outside Planned Parenthood or the Lovering abortion facility to pray for an hour at a time. The threefold mission of 40DFL is prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil, and community outreach, and New Hampshire’s teams did their best to carry those out in a year when abortion advocates came close to banning legal, peaceful, non-obstructive demonstration where abortions are done. In the face of this atmosphere and the excessive caution it provoked in some circles, Dianne and Jen remained true to 40DFL’s mission and commitment. Their teams deserve just as much credit.

Most unexpected pro-life victory

From www.supremecourt.gov
From www.supremecourt.gov

Who expects anything constructive from the U.S. Supreme Court nowadays? One always hopes, of course – but expectation, not so much.

Imagine my surprise when not one but two major decisions came down on the pro-life side. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court rejected Massachusetts’ buffer zone law on a narrow basis: since existing laws hadn’t yet been used against pro-life witnesses, it was inappropriate to pass a new law with the drastic effect of squelching First Amendment rights. Massachusetts has since passed a new buffer zone law, in line with the Court’s warning.

And then there’s the Hobby Lobby decision. The McCullen decision was received fairly quietly by abortion advocates, mostly because they were still screaming over Hobby Lobby. It’s official: owners of a privately-held company who have religious objections to certain forms of “contraception” – in this case, abortion-triggering drugs and devices – may not be compelled to help pay for or provide those devices to employees. It was an extremely narrow ruling, but it upheld the religious liberty of the owners of Hobby Lobby.Take that, Obamacare.

Abortion advocates went into overdrive, and in the process they abandoned any pretense of believing that abortion is different from birth control (which has implications for future legislation and litigation on abortion funding). “#notmybossbusiness” became the hashtag of the day, as extremists as usual seized the PR advantage over defenders of religious liberty. They claimed that any boss who refuses to violate her conscience by providing employee insurance coverage for abortifacients is actually making medical decisions for the employee. The abortion advocates are concerned about the other Obamacare lawsuits in the pipeline from other entities, including religious institutions and publicly-traded companies.

Conscience rights? Still under assault.

Best decision by a candidate

Karen Testerman: "Life is not an issue; it's a fundamental principle. There should be no question about it."
Karen Testerman at Women for Bob Smith rally: “Life is not an issue; it’s a fundamental principle. There should be no question about it.”

Karen Testerman wanted to be the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate. She started early, campaigned hard within the conservative base, and brought her message to GOP committees statewide. Former Senator Bob Smith was in the race as well, with eighteen years of Senate seniority in his back pocket and a long record of pro-life votes in Washington. In an act both savvy and gracious – two things that often go by the boards in campaign season – Karen decided to bow out in favor of Sen. Smith. She didn’t just drop out of the race and go home. She declared her support for Smith very publicly, standing with him in the State House. She campaigned as tirelessly for him as she had for herself. She was determined not to split the pro-life vote.

We all know the epilogue: Scott Brown entered the race, bolstered by legacy Republicans. The self-proclaimed pro-choicer Brown managed a hair under 50% in the nine-way GOP primary. Sen. Smith earned 23%, far more than most pundits expected. Brown went on to lose to incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. But this isn’t about “worst decisions by a candidate,” so let’s move on.

Most encouraging election result

The New Hampshire House lost a lot of its abortion supporters and assisted-suicide advocates in November. That’s a net win for the people of New Hampshire, even with newly-elected reps who are keeping their life-issue inclinations to themselves for now.

NH pro-life event & speaker of the year

Julia Holcomb, Silent No More
Julia Holcomb, Silent No More

A most subjective category, to be sure – but can anyone seriously challenge Julia Holcomb of Silent No More as the most compelling speaker at any New Hampshire event this year? New Hampshire Right to Life’s annual banquet was the venue for an exceptional evening. Holcomb’s story of being coerced into a late-term saline abortion at age 17 is unforgettable. As I wrote at the time, “It’s tough to take phrases like ‘choice’ and ‘reproductive justice’ seriously after hearing from Julia Holcomb. Slogans fade away in the face of a woman speaking with such courage and honesty.”

Honorable mention: The rally for life organized by Women for Bob Smith brought together candidates for local, state and federal offices, some of whom had little to no name recognition among pro-life voters until they spoke that day on the State House plaza. Andrew Hemingway, GOP primary candidate for governor, summed it up in his remarks about the right to life: “Is there any other greater cause? No. This is it. The pinnacle. You must take the energy from this day and move this cause forward.” Move the cause forward. With encouragement and inspiration like this, why not?