Big Talk, Then a Whimper: Senate Tables Born-Alive

The New Hampshire Senate has voted 14-10 along party lines to table SB 741-FN, a born-alive infant protection act.

Words vs. Actions

Before the tabling motion was made, Sen. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye) introduced the “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL) motion made by the Health and Human Services Committee, of which he is chair. Sen. Sherman called the title of the bill “inflammatory and inaccurate,” said the bill “drives a false narrative,” and added that as a physician “I find this extremely offensive.”

Extremely offended or not, he joined his colleagues a few minutes later in tabling the bill, rather than pressing for a vote on his ITL motion.

Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead) emphasized that the bill came down to one question: “isn’t a baby who is born alive a person, no matter what the circumstances of their birth?”

Rather than answering the question, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth) responded by moving to table the bill. In parliamentary terms, a tabling motion sets the bill aside, is non-debatable, and takes precedence over an ITL motion. In practical terms, the tabling motion short-circuited further consideration of the bill, and prevented a vote on Sen. Sherman’s ITL motion.

Affirm the right of every newborn to care, regardless of circumstances of birth? Nope.

A constituent of Sen. Cindy Rosenwald forwarded to me an email the senator sent in reply to a plea to support SB 741-FN. “I hope you will be comforted to know that every person who is born is alive and receives full legal protections.” (There’s an extra “and” in there, no doubt due to hasty typing. I know how that goes.) The senator had a chance with SB 741-FN to add enforcement provisions to “legal protections.” She chose not to, joining her colleagues in punting – er, voting to table.

A vote to remove the bill from the table is unlikely.

Roll Call

Voting to table SB 741-FN, all Democrat party, with district number and hometown: Sens. David Watters (4-Dover), Martha Hennessey (5-Hanover), Jeanne Dietsch (9-Peterborough), Jay Kahn (10-Keene), Shannon Chandley (11-Amherst), Melanie Levesque (12-Brookline), Cindy Rosenwald (13-Nashua), Dan Feltes (15-Concord), Kevin Cavanaugh (16-Manchester), Donna Soucy (18-Manchester), Lou D’Allesandro (20-Manchester), Martha Fuller Clark (21-Portsmouth), Jon Morgan (23-Brentwood), Thomas Sherman (24-Rye.)

Voting against the tabling motion, all Republicans with district number and hometown: Sens. David Starr (1-Franconia), Bob Giuda (2-Warren), Jeb Bradley (3-Wolfeboro), James Gray (6-Rochester), Harold French (7-Franklin), Ruth Ward (8-Stoddard), Sharon Carson (14-Londonderry), John Reagan (17-Deerfield), Regina Birdsell (19-Hampstead), Chuck Morse (22-Salem).

House Bill: Awaiting Committee Vote

The House’s version of born-alive legislation, HB 1675, will have a committee vote on March 4.

Surprise! Senate Wants to Rush ITL on Born-Alive Bill

The New Hampshire Senate’s born-alive infant protection bill, SB 741-FN, faces an Inexpedient to Legislate recommendation when the Senate meets on Thursday, February 13. The vote will come only two days after a committee’s ITL vote.

This is a rush job that I would have missed if the bill’s sponsor hadn’t alerted me today. She was surprised, too. The Senate does not normally act on bills within two days of committee action. I don’t care how busy they are; that kind of move doesn’t give the public much of a heads-up.

Action Alert

So don’t bother with letters and postcards. The Senate decided to rush this one. Call your Senator. Senators provide only office numbers on the General Court web site, no personal ones, so I hope their administrative support staff – which amounts to one person for every three Senators or so – is ready to take messages.

Simple message, really: overturn the committee recommendation, and vote Ought to Pass on SB 741, please and thank you. Short, clear, polite.

Here’s the Senate roster, and here’s the “who’s my senator?” link.

Related: my earlier post on this year’s House and Senate bills on born-alive infant protection.

Wanna Watch?

The Senate session begins at 10 a.m. on Thursday, February 13th. SB 741-FN is the third item on the agenda. The session is open to the public, with the gallery entrance on the second floor of the State House.

Note that the Senate gallery is much smaller than the House’s gallery. Access is via a narrow stairway.

The session will be live-streamed as well. Click on the Streaming Media link near the upper right of the General Court home page.

Committee Action

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 3-2 along party lines on February 11 to recommend Inexpedient to Legislate on SB 741-FN. The bill calls for medically appropriate and reasonable care for any child born alive, including children who survive attempted abortion.

Voting Inexpedient to Legislate, recommending that the bill be killed: Democrats Thomas Sherman (District 24, Rye), Martha Fuller Clark (District 21, Portsmouth), and Shannon Chandley (District 11, Amherst).

The Republicans on the committee, both of them co-sponsors of SB 741-FN, voted against the ITL recommendation: Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and James Gray of Rochester.

Tale of the Docket

The illustration above is a screenshot from the docket, or official online record of action, for SB 741-FN. Of interest is the last line within the green box, which documents the astoundingly rushed nature of this scheduled Senate vote.

2/11/2020 is the date of the most recent action, the committee vote with its “inexpedient to legislate” report. (The “S” column simply means “Senate.”) Next to that is the date 2/13/2020 and “SC 6A.” That means the Senate will vote on February 13 as recorded in volume 6A of the Senate Calendar.

Two days: make the best of them.

Abortion Amendment gets thumbs down in committee

The House Judiciary Committee this morning voted 18-2 to send an “inexpedient to legislate” recommendation to the full House on CACR 14, the proposed abortion amendment to the New Hampshire constitution. The full House will vote on the measure later in February.

CACR 14 says, “The right to make personal reproductive medical decisions is inviolate and fundamental to the human condition. Neither the State nor any political subdivision shall infringe upon or unduly inconvenience this right.” As I wrote earlier before the committee hearing on the amendment, CACR 14 would bake abortion into the New Hampshire constitution.

Heard at the executive session

Before the Judiciary committee voted on the amendment, there was some public discussion among the members, as is typical of an executive session. Even some stalwart defenders of protecting abortion as a “reproductive right” had issues with CACR 14 as drafted.

Rep. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland) said that the amendment as written was “contradictory, confusing, and could lead to unintended consequences.” Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), committee chair, called CACR 14 “not carefully drawn.”

Two members of the committee, Reps. Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham) and Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham), voted against the ITL motion. Horrigan called concerns over the amendment, including its effect on public funding, “vastly overblown.”

Several committee members with pro-life records commented as well. Rep. Jason Janvrin said, “This conflicts with at least four articles in our state constitution.” Rep. Gary Hopper (R-Weare) brought up the interesting point that the amendment doesn’t mention the gender of a person exercising “reproductive medical decisions.” Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) noted “three to four hundred [email] responses from the public, 90% skewed to the No side.”

In praise of composing one’s own message

Rep. Smith spoke with some asperity about form emails sent to the committee, where an identical message shows up over and over again, each from a different email address.

Such messages are actually composed by an interest group. They don’t allow for personal messages. They annoy the living daylights out of Rep. Smith (and no doubt many of her colleagues). I can’t blame her.

Better to send one single line from yourself – even as simple as “please vote ITL on CACR 14; thank you!” – than let some group use your name on a form email that is more than likely to be deleted by the recipient.

Next step

CACR 14 will go to the full House at a date yet to be determined, but likely to be the third week in February. Concerned voters should contact their state representatives (not senators) and ask them to vote in favor of the committee recommendation on CACR 14, which is “inexpedient to legislate.” (I’ll put a call to action on the blog’s Facebook page as soon as I know the date of the vote.)

The roll call

The motion in committee was “inexpedient to legislate,” made by Rep. Berch, seconded by Rep. Janvrin.

Supporting the ITL motion, therefore in favor of killing CACR 14:

Reps. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland), Anita Burroughs (D-Glen), Wendy Chase (D-Rollinsford), Charlotte DiLorenzo (D-Newmarket), Edward “Ned” Gordon (R-Bristol), Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown), Gary Hopper R-Weare), Jason Janvrin (R-Seabrook), Sandra Keans (D-Rochester), Cam Kenney (D-Durham), Diane Langley (D-Manchester), Mark McLean (R-Manchester), Charles Melvin (R-Newton, sitting in for the absent Rep. Joe Alexander), Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), Deb Stevens (D-Nashua), Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), David Woodbury (D-New Boston), Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford).

Not supporting the ITL motion, therefore in favor of passing CACR 14: Reps. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) and Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham). Rep. Horrigan intends to file a minority report, ensuring a House floor debate on the amendment.

Senate version of born-alive bill hearing February 4

The New Hampshire Senate Health and Human Services Committee will have a public hearing on SB 741-FN, a born-alive infant protection bill, on Tuesday, February 4 at 3:20 p.m. in room 100 of the State House. This is the Senate version of HB 1675-FN, which was heard in the House Judiciary Committee on January 29.

Chief sponsor of SB 741-FN is Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead). She is joined by eight Senate co-sponsors and four House co-sponsors.

Unlike most House committees, a Senate committee may vote on a bill immediately after the hearing. For contact information for the senators who will hear SB 741-FN, see the “email entire committee” link on the Senate HHS committee’s information page.

The two bills are not in competition with each other. If the House turns down its version, the Senate might still approve its own – and yes, that’s optimistic, but it’s a way to ensure that the public has at least two chances to call for statutory protection for children who survive attempted abortion. Opposition to infanticide shouldn’t be a tough call.

Thereby hangs a cautionary tale.

White coats at the House hearing

(Corrected 2/3/2020 to show correct surname of ACOG representative.)

What can senators expect to hear on February 4? Consider what happened at the House committee hearing on HB 1675. (I’ll drop the “FN” for the remainder of this post; it means “fiscal note” and has no bearing on the bill’s underlying subject matter.)

The Union Leader’s Kevin Landrigan wrote about “four” abortion bills that had hearings on January 29 – although one of those bills, HB 1675, was about children already born and thus was not an abortion bill. Mr. Landrigan’s story included a photo he took at a press conference held by abortion advocates that day.

abortion press conference
photo by Kevin Landrigan/Union Leader

Tucked in between pink-clad PP supporters and red-clad “handmaidens” were several women in white coats. I learned at the born-alive hearing that they were medical doctors and medical students with coats embroidered with Dartmouth Hitchcock emblems.

The white-coated women drew no distinction among the four bills reported upon by Mr. Landrigan. I was at the born-alive hearing, and I saw they were there to oppose that bill – a bill that would impose upon them a specific duty to care for newborn children who have survived attempted abortion, with penalties for failure to do so.

One of the women in white was identified in the Union Leader story as Dr. Ellen Joyce, chair of the state chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. According my notes from the hearing, she called the born-alive bill “dangerous” and “ill-advised,” said it “seeks to solve a problem that does not exist,” and added that the legislation’s “false claims” tended to undermine the public’s trust in OB/GYNs.

I bit my tongue and forbore telling her that for me, that particular horse left the barn awhile ago. Trust, indeed.

No abortion survivors were present to challenge the “false claims” narrative. Their advocates showed up, though.

“I’m here today for Gianna Jessen.”

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien (R-Derry), drew the committee’s attention to the text of her bill, calling only for “medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment” for infants who survive abortion. She cited Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen as two survivors. Are there survivors in New Hampshire? “We can’t know that there are not,” she said. New Hampshire doesn’t provide the Centers for Disease Control with any abortion data, including post-abortion complications, and surely a surviving child would be a statistical complication. The sponsor asked that since we don’t know if there are abortion survivors here, why not err on the side of life?

Ohden and Jessen have made it into this blog before. For many years, they have been very open about how they were not-quite aborted. They know that some children are born alive after attempted abortion, because that’s how they were born. Ohden founded the Abortion Survivors’ Network, and now more than 260 people have shared with her their own stories of abortion survival.

Rep. Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack) picked up that theme: “I’m here today for Gianna Jessen.” She got the same question as did Rep. Prudhomme-O’Brien: does it happen here? She reminded the committee of what the sponsor had said: we can’t know, under New Hampshire’s current no-stats-to-the-CDC policy. She noted the plethora of animal rights bills being considered by the House this session, and suggested that human babies deserve as much consideration.

Plenty of people testified in favor of the bill, even as various committee members played their favorite card repeatedly: what makes you think this happens in New Hampshire? Toward the end of the hearing, after the ACOG representative had testified, I heard a supporter of the bill cut short by a committee member, who shifted from question to statement: we’ve had medical testimony that this doesn’t happen.

From now on, whenever I hear an abortion advocate saying “trust women,” I’m going to remember the women in white from the hearing on HB 1675. I’ll also remember Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen. The survivors simply have more credibility with me.

Perhaps only meeting survivors in person will ever win over white-coated women who take time away from work and school to argue against a bill to protect newborns who are born despite efforts to abort them. Maybe only a survivor can win over a skeptical legislator.

Until then, I’m glad to know there are legislators willing to be advocates for survivors who can’t be at the State House to plead their own cause.

Born-alive legislation is irrelevant to Roe v. Wade. It addresses a situation that occurs after a woman exercises choice. It does not affect an abortion provider’s rightful duty to care for the woman undergoing an abortion. It’s about infanticide. And still, here in New Hampshire, the prospect of a born-alive law scares some people senseless.

It’s as though some of the people in the hearing room were afraid that care is a zero-sum thing, and that any care given to an abortion-survivor newborn must necessarily mean less care, even contempt, for the woman whose pregnancy has just been terminated.

Anyone ready for a paradigm shift?

Hearings, then votes

The House Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on HB 1675. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee is free to vote on SB 741 immediately after its hearing on February 4, although a delay is possible. Dates for votes in the full House and Senate will be determined after the committees make their recommendations.