Part Two: the Debate
(For Part One: the Vote, click here.)
Note to anyone speaking to the New Hampshire House: do not compare the deaths via abortion of millions of preborn children with World War II’s Holocaust. You’ll be gaveled to a halt. That’s with the Republicans in charge. Perhaps a Democratic Speaker of the House would have ruled differently. You can never tell when a human rights discussion will hit a nerve.
HJR 3, the resolution seeking to investigate abortion providers and to keep taxpayer dollars away from them, got a unanimous thumbs-down from the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs (HHS) committee. 16-0, no dissent. That puts a bill on what’s called the consent calendar, when it’s voted on in a bloc all at once with other “non-controversial” bills.
That didn’t work. It only takes one legislator to request that a bill be removed from the consent calendar in order to get more careful attention. Five did so for HJR 3, according to a message I received before the session from a legislator.
Next move: an attempt to table the bill. That didn’t work, either. As the roll call was slowly taken (the electronic voting system being temporarily out of commission), it became obvious that supporters of Planned Parenthood’s abortion business were solidly against tabling the bill. They apparently thought – correctly, as it turned out – that they could kill the bill outright while scoring a political win. Supporters of the resolution were split. No doubt some wanted to table the bill until more support could be mustered. Others just wanted a recorded vote. Well, they got it.
Hanging in the background of the proceedings was the indictment handed down earlier this week by a Texas grand jury against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress. Whatever the merits or defects of the indictment, Planned Parenthood and its supporters are, incredibly, treating it as irrefutable proof that the CMP videos are bogus at best and a criminal enterprise at worst. PP is riding high.
The committee report of “inexpedient to legislate”
Once the preliminaries were out of the way and the bill finally came up for debate and a vote, the motion on the floor was to adopt the HHS report of “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL). In other words, a “yes” vote on the motion was the same as voting “no” on the resolution.
Here’s the report from the HHS committee. While it was written by Rep. Lucy Weber (D-Walpole), a staunch PP defender in all circumstances, she was explaining its 16-0 vote from a bipartisan group that included pro-lifers:
“Committee members voted to ITL this resolution for a variety of different reasons. Concerns expressed by committee members were as follows. Some committee members were concerned about joining investigation and defunding in one resolution. If investigation turns up no wrongdoing, there would be no need for defunding. Some believe that a resolution calling for action by Congress is of little practical effect. Some believe the resolution unnecessary because Congress and the NH Attorney General have already conducted investigations or investigated complaints and the NH Attorney General determined no further investigation was necessary. Some believe that the allegations in the resolution are untrue and object to the tone. Not all committee members agree with all of these reasons, but all agreed that this resolution should not go forward.”
The speakers: five for the resolution, one opposed
Rep. Weber (D-Walpole), asked to speak to the full House in support of the ITL motion. She decried attacks on PP, saying they were based on “innuendo” and “allegations.” She also warned that taking tax money away from abortion providers could mean taking tax money away from hospitals.
By the way, Rep. Weber also said, “We’ve all seen the videos.” Here’s hoping she’s right.
Five other reps signed up on the other side: for the resolution, against the ITL. Those five were Reps. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford), Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester), Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien (R-Derry), and Warren Groen (R-Rochester).
We know how the vote went. The ITL was adopted on a 227-100 vote, killing the resolution decisively. We’re left to speculate on how many votes were swung by the speeches. Perhaps all minds were made up before the session, and it was merely a gracious act by the Speaker to give these reps their say (or most of their say, as we shall see).
So what did some of the supporters of HJR 3 have to say?
“We need transparency. There is no transparency without an investigation.”
Rep. Souza is a member of New Hampshire Right to Life, the organization that has sought in federal and state courts to get information about Planned Parenthood’s funding and its dispensation of prescription drugs . She knows how tough it can be to get disclosure about PP activities.
“I’m against the committee report, because we need transparency. There is no transparency without an investigation. We don’t know what’s happening here.”
She reviewed for her colleagues the way Planned Parenthood secured its Pennacook Street location in Manchester. Souza said that Jennifer Frizzell – then as now a PP spokeswoman – assured neighbors that PP’s office would be no different from that of a general practitioner. “That was not an honest assessment,” Souza noted. (Read about how PP came to Pennacook Street.)
“Now, the same person from Planned Parenthood sat before our committee on Health and Human Services just last week. She stated Planned Parenthood of Northern New England does not engage in the sale of body parts. She called it ‘tissue donation.’ However, after [a] Freedom of Information Act [request from NHRTL] and a court case, which Right to Life won …we find that in Planned Parenthood’s application to the federal government for federal funding in 2011 … there is listed a tissue donation program. I submit we need this investigation. They didn’t tell the truth when they came to Pennacook Street. We don’t know if they’re telling the truth now. But they told the federal government they’ve got a fetal tissue donation program. The only way to know what they’re doing with taxpayer money is to do an investigation.
“And for the second part of this resolution, the defunding, I don’t think we should be giving them a penny. No matter what they’re calling the activities they’re doing, they’re reprehensible and disgusting. They don’t deserve our money.”
The honorable heritage of investigative reporting
Rep. Prudhomme O’Brien was aware of the indictments against two people who made the CMP videos revealing PP’s body-parts business. She sees parallels between the CMP investigation and earlier investigative journalism projects.
“I think we can all appreciate the value of investigative journalism to our society. We think about Nellie Bly and how she exposed the abuses of the mental health hospitals of her time. We can remember Upton Sinclair and how he also exposed many abuses in the meat industry. I think this is in the same category.
“Some people say that the Center for Medical Progress edited some of their videos…. [T]hey’re edited for brevity, but not for deception. I believe that to be true because if you go to the Center for Medical Progress’s web site, you can see the entire video in full if you enjoy watching people sitting in waiting rooms and walking down halls. But do your own research. I think that the matters this bill addresses are serious enough for us to investigate.
“A few days ago in Houston, a grand jury charged the Center for Medical Progress investigative journalists with using fraudulent licenses. I believe that the same grand jury, if they were to hear the case against Nellie Bly, for example, would probably charge her with theft of services for spending time in mental institutions pretending to be a patient so that she could get to the bottom of that.”
The H word and the “Eisenhower tour”
Reps. Wuelper and Notter made straightforward pitches for investigation into finances of abortion providers. Souza called for transparency overall, in view of the troubling history of one particular provider. Prudhomme-O’Brien reminded us that some abuses can only be brought to light by undercover investigations. It was left to Warren Groen to say something that prompted the Speaker of the House to use his gavel.
“It so happens that today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today is the day that the Auschwitz camp was liberated in World War II….Eisenhower felt it was important to see [the death camps]. He went in and saw it himself. General Eisenhower required members of the local village and towns to come up to the camps and tour the camps. ”
Down came the gavel of Speaker Shawn Jasper (R-Hudson). “The member will suspend. You are way off the subject of the bill. I ask you to confine your remarks to the proposed legislation and not to the history of the Holocaust.”
Groen paused but was otherwise unfazed. He resumed: “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’d better move away from that holocaust to the modern-day holocaust.” He hurried on with his remarks, forestalling further use of the gavel.
“In the [HHS] committee hearing, both of the abortion organizations that were there asked the committee ‘please come and visit us, please come and check us out.’ I think that’s a great idea… for everyone in the House that either doesn’t care about abortion, or that supports it. Go visit. Don’t take the nickel tour. Take the Eisenhower tour…There was an actress in New Jersey who filmed her abortion because she was so proud of it. There might be a woman in New Hampshire that’s proud of it, and even let you come in and watch her abortion. And then when the nurse is putting all the little pieces together, to make sure they got all of it, look over the nurse’s shoulder and watch as she reassembles the baby. Don’t take the nickel tour. Take the whole Eisenhower tour. That would be a real investigation.”
What does defeat of the resolution mean?
Nothing the House did on HJR 3 changes or undoes the Executive Council’s August 2015 denial of a contract to PPNNE. It’s the Council that awards contracts, and a dead piece of legislation has no bearing on its actions.
So New Hampshire is still one of the states that has “de-funded” PP, if one torques “de-funding” PPNNE into being synonymous with “denying a $638,000 two-year contract to a $20 million organization.” That hasn’t changed.
What defeat of the resolution does mean: It means a PR win for abortion providers. It means a majority of the NH House members are untroubled by ongoing court cases involving abortion providers, including cases that have cost the taxpayers money. It means that a majority of NH House members (remember, Rep. Weber said “we’ve all seen the videos”) must either have no problem with the activities documented by the Center for Medical Progress or think the videos are altogether fabricated. It means that the bill’s sponsors and the HHS committee didn’t spend enough time together before the bill came up for a committee vote; if they had, there wouldn’t have been a 16-0 vote to kill the thing. It means that de-funding abortion providers is not a priority for either party, including the one with a pro-life plank in its platform.
Perhaps that sounds good to you; perhaps not. Either way, it means that even with the First in the Nation presidential primary looming, it’s the local- and state-level elections in November where the fate of resolutions like HJR 3 will be decided.