In all the years I’ve been an advocate for life-issue legislation, I’ve seen very few days when the New Hampshire House has produced two victories – but here we are.
Despite the efforts of the Judiciary Committee, the House on February 24 passed HB 625, to restrict abortions after 24 weeks’ gestation, on a 191-160 roll call vote. (I’ll add a link to the roll call once it’s posted on the General Court website.) Later, after a Democratic effort to deny a quorum, the House passed HB 233, to protect infants surviving attempted abortion. That vote was 181-49, on a division vote.
That born-alive vote has some stories behind it.
The session was not open to the general public except via livestream. What follows is drawn from reports by credentialed media, my communication with House members, and relevant social media posts.
Life-issue bills, not “abortion bills”
First, let’s clarify what was and wasn’t at stake in each bill.
HB 625 is clearly about changing New Hampshire’s abortion-until-birth policy. It’s accurate to call that one an abortion bill. That’s “bill,” singular.
HB 233 protects children who are already born and who happen to have survived attempted abortion. It refers to human beings already born. It does not affect, regulate, or restrict abortion. It is false to claim otherwise. Calling it an abortion bill is an effort to divert attention away from its actual intention: provide enforceable protection for vulnerable infants.
Which one caused more fuss in the House? Not the abortion bill.
A note on party lines
I’m an independent voter, or as the Secretary of State would have it, “undeclared.” I carry no brief for either major party. That said, these life-issue victories on the House floor came with Republicans in the majority.
As for the other party, journalists Kevin Landrigan of the Union Leader and Adam Sexton of WMUR reported on a Democratic walkout over the born-alive bill. I confirmed their reports with a legislator who was on the scene.
Born-alive bill: the walkout
More than eight hundred bills are coming up this year, and one party considered blockage of protection for vulnerable infants worth walking out over. The walkout over HB 233 was prompted not only by the subject but by timing.
The House has a two-day session this week, February 24 and 25. The House calendar for the session is divided into two parts, one for each day. HB 625 was in part one. HB 233, along with buffer zone repeal (HB 430), was in part two.
A House calendar’s “parts” aren’t carved in stone. Any bill can be special-ordered, meaning considered out of order, if a majority of House members agree. Usually, it’s a matter of convenience or housekeeping. Sometimes, however, a special order has teeth to it. So it was with HB 233.
Fresh from victory on the 24-week bill, Republican House Majority Leader Jason Osborne moved to special-order HB 233, meaning move it to the first day of the session. His motion passed, 180-159.
According to the recorded docket for the bill, Rep. Willis Griffith, a Democrat from Manchester, then moved to table the bill. That motion failed, 45-184.
So 339 representatives voted on the special-order motion, while only 229 voted on the tabling motion. The difference was due to a walkout of many of the Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton.
Doing the math
There was a method to the madness: the House needs a quorum – a certain number of representatives on duty – to do business, and if enough legislators walk out, there’s no quorum. The tactic only works if the walkout leader does the math right. The walkout over HB 233 flunked that test. A quorum remained, and business went on.
Reportedly, House Speaker Sherman Packard tried to prevent representatives from leaving. The setting of the session – a large indoor sports arena, set up to fit COVID precautions, with many exits – apparently made that impractical. Later, some of those who walked out tried to get back in, once they realized they hadn’t succeeded in shutting the House down. Packard then exercised his authority to keep them out.
Rep. Griffith kept trying to derail the bill. His motion to indefinitely postpone HB 233 failed, 43-188; his motion to send the bill back to committee failed, 40-186. Weary of delay, the House finally voted to limit debate.
The House rejected the Judiciary Committee’s “inexpedient to legislate” recommendation on a 46-186 roll call, then voted “Ought to Pass,” 181-49. The final vote was a division vote, which unlike a roll call does not reveal each representative’s name.
“Cruel” to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable care”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire calls HB 233 “cruel.” A Facebook post by one of my own reps – a Democrat, as it happens – mischaracterized the bill as one that forces people to do bad things “despite parents’ wishes.”
To review, HB 233 calls for “medically appropriate and reasonable care” for infants who survive abortion. No less, no more.
I’m pretty sure my Dem representative didn’t bother to read the bill, relying instead on the ridiculous committee majority report. Otherwise, she must really believe that protection for born-alive infants is a bad thing.
I prefer my legislators to have a more expansive view of human rights.
I write this after Day One of the session, with Day Two yet to come. The bruises raised today are unlikely to have healed by 9 a.m. when the House reconvenes.
(…bruises raised by the prospect of protecting infants, no less.)
The buffer zone bill is on Day Two’s agenda. That’s a First Amendment bill. Fearless forecast #1: it will be mischaracterized by its opponents as a matter of reproductive rights.
Fearless forecast #2: no walkouts by either side. Today’s attempt was simply embarrassing.
To the Senate
HB 625 could have been sent to a second House committee (Criminal Justice and Public Safety) for further consideration, but committee chairman Daryl Abbas waived that referral. HB 625 is on its way to the Senate.
It’s unclear to me if HB 233 will head to a second committee in the House. I’ll update this post when more information is available.
Header photo by Cottonbro/Pexels.