Buffer zone repeal clears NH House, 170-159

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law is a step closer to being repealed, with this morning’s House vote of 170-159 in favor of HB 403. A motion to reconsider the vote failed. The measure now goes to the New Hampshire Senate.

Roll call for the vote is HERE on the “ought to pass” motion. Note that some of the “not voting” notations will turn out to be excused absences; it’ll take a few days for that to be reflected online.

A few notes and observations:

IMG_20150312_111343I was at a 40 Days for Life vigil outside a Manchester abortion facility during today’s vote – the facility at the heart of the buffer zone fight. You can see that Pennacook Street as a whole still has weather-related access issues, compounded by the puddles and ice resulting from a firefighting operation on the block a week ago. While the facility has off-street parking for clients (behind the stockade fence in photo), most local residents as well as anyone demonstrating outside the facility must park on the street. Parking is restricted to one side only until more snow melts or can be removed. (The facility is off camera to the right. In order to avoid accusations of “intimidation,” I don’t point my camera directly at the facility when I know it’s open for business. Likewise I’ve obscured the license plate numbers in the photo.)

Nashua Democrat Rep. Cindy Rosenwald argued for reconsideration after the House vote, saying that members of the House Finance Committee had been out of the room when the vote was cast. That proved unpersuasive to her colleagues, who may have been thinking that the Finance Committee members had the same access to the House Calendar as anyone else and knew which bills were coming up today.

I regret that I didn’t catch the name of the state representative who made the first House speech today opposing repeal. He said that this week, some federal court in Pennsylvania upheld a buffer zone law. He suggested that since the zone is legal in Pennsylvania and yet one was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the McCullen case, this is somehow an open question. It was left to pro-repeal Reps. Kathy Souza and Robert Rowe to point out that the Supreme Court slammed the door on any “buffer zone” initiative that is imposed by a government (including New Hampshire’s) that does not first enforce less-restrictive laws to protect both abortion-facility access and the exercise of First Amendment rights. Whatever the law may be in the Pennsylvania case cited in today’s first speech, it must be substantively different from the Massachusetts law struck down by the Supreme Court, which was the law on which New Hampshire’s “buffer” is based.

Thumbs up to Rep. Joe Hagan, who also spoke up for repeal in today’s debate.

Anti-repeal reps also trotted out the talking point that New Hampshire’s law is different from the failed Massachusetts law, hoping their listeners were ignorant of the fact the the chief difference is the size of the buffer. They also asked their colleagues to give the buffer zone law a chance to work. Well, that’s kinda tough, since a judge at the federal district court in Concord slapped a restraining order on the law months ago. All the reps know that. They also know that the Reddy v. Foster lawsuit against the buffer zone law is pending. Repeal would put a quiet end to that case.