40 Days for Life begins today

Four New Hampshire locations are sites for 40 Days for Life campaigns beginning Ash Wednesday, February 17, lasting until Sunday, March 28. Each campaign features peaceful pro-life witness outside abortion facilities, along with prayer, fasting, and community outreach.

For more information about each campaign and about the global 40 Days for Life project, go to these links. Note that each campaign has its own vigil calendar, where volunteers can sign up. Each campaign also has its own special events schedule.

Statement of Peace

The 40DFL Statement of Peace, signed by all participants, is an integral part of the campaign. Among the commitments: I will only pursue peaceful, law-abiding solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign…I understand that breaking the law or acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign.

What 40DFL is and isn’t

40 Days for Life aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and – in its most visible work – peaceful vigil outside abortion facilities.

Civil disobedience is not part of 40 Days for Life. It’s about witness, not protest.

Also, it’s not about ignoring COVID. Volunteers are directed to observe appropriate protocols including social distancing. A volunteer who becomes ill or is exposed to COVID is expected to stay home rather than attend the vigil.

Anyone whose health concerns make participation in group events inadvisable can pray and fast from home, joining in spirit those who are keeping vigil on the sidewalks. Remote witness sounds like a contradiction in terms to anyone unfamiliar with the contemplative tradition, but that’s what some of us have done in COVID time. Has this weakened 40DFL? Hardly. This campaign is taking place in 567 locations around the world, making it the largest spring campaign since 40DFL began in 2007.

Born-alive legislation, 2021

“Any born alive infant, including one born in the course of an abortion, shall be treated as a legal person under the laws of this state, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment…Any health care provider present at the time the infant is born shall take all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to the preserve the life and health of the born alive infant.”

That’s the key language from HB 233-FN, the born-alive infant protection bill to be heard in House Judiciary on February 10. The bill seeks to assure that once a child survives abortion – that is, once a pregnancy has been terminated and a living child remains – that child has an enforceable right to medically appropriate and reasonable care.

If you think that’s a good idea, speak up. It’s not an idea that has yet found a place in New Hampshire law. You can sign in using this online form: February 10, House Judiciary, HB 233.

HB 233 may be the definitive way of determining just how much difference the 2020 election made.

Flashback to 2020

A similar bill was killed in the House last year on an Inexpedient to Legislate motion, 177-131. The Judiciary Committee – many of whose members are back on the committee this year – made the ITL recommendation along party lines.

I took video of then-Chair Marjorie Smith reading her statement opposing that year’s born-alive bill. She claimed there’s “no such thing” as abortions being done until birth, in spite of testimony to the contrary. She denied that New Hampshire law allows abortion until birth, which is like denying that the sun rises in the east: you can say it if it makes you feel better, but know that you’re denying reality.

It’ll be interesting to see how closely this year’s committee hearing and subsequent vote hew to last year’s pattern.

The Senate took a crack at its own born-alive bill in 2020. Result: tabled, on a party-line vote.

Zoom hearing link, and other bills on agenda

All of House Judiciary’s hearings on Wednesday, February 10 are being held via Zoom at this link: https://www.zoom.us/j/91322816360

HB 233, the born-alive bill, will have its hearing at 1 p.m. Earlier, at 9 a.m., the committee will hold a hearing on two bills at once, both on taxpayer funding of abortion: HB 434 and HB 596.

HB 434: the No Public Funds for Abortion Act, with exceptions for “abortion performed when the life of the mother is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.” 

HB 596-FN: the Life Appropriation Act, bars state funding of “convenience” abortions, including funding to agencies that perform such abortions, even if potential funding is for a non-abortion purpose. The bill would also establish a Foster Care and Adoption Initiative Fund.

For your information: Abortion Survivors Network

Whatever the outcome of New Hampshire’s born-alive bill, no matter what’s happening politically, abortion survivors are finding their voices. Each one is living defiance of the “no such thing” claim. Check out the Abortion Survivors Network, and read the stories from survivors.

Header image by Pexels.

Time to kill the “buffer zone” law

“Safety and balance.” That has been the cry parroted by supporters of New Hampshire’s unenforced and unenforceable buffer zone law ever since its introduction and passage in 2014. Keeping people safe means keeping people silent: that’s some screwy balance. No wonder the law has never been used.

It’s time for the Sidewalk Free Speech Act, HB 430, which will have its hearing tomorrow, February 9, at 2 p.m. It will repeal the buffer zone law, if passed.

Four times, efforts to repeal that law have failed. It’s imperative to keep trying. It’s time to erase a blot on New Hampshire’s statutes by getting rid of the buffer zone law. See the end of this post for details on how you can let legislators know that.

HB 430 ought to pass with an overwhelming majority. Anyone who values the First Amendment will support it. Abortion will be unaffected when HB 430 passes, but First Amendment rights will be reaffirmed.

“Safety and balance”

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law allows abortion facility managers to decide the times and places members of the public may occupy public property within 25 feet of the facility. That’s a “buffer zone.” Municipal agencies may be consulted about a proposed zone, but have no say in whether a zone is actually set up.

Is there any wonder that no one has dared to set up a buffer zone so far? Just how hungry for litigation does someone have to be in order to support such a law? And yet legislators have continued to tolerate having the law on the books.

The sponsor of the buffer zone law, Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester, still in office), cited “safety and balance” repeatedly as she shepherded her bill onto then-Gov. Hassan’s desk in 2014. She spoke as though the advocates of safety were somehow in opposition to advocates of peaceful witness.

The buffer zone law makes no distinction between violent action and silent prayer. Neither the actions nor the intentions of a person outside an abortion facility figure into the buffer zone law. Only the opinion of a “reproductive health care facility” manager carries any weight.

Sen. Soucy was concerned about violence, as though people praying on the sidewalk weren’t just as concerned about it. She spoke of safety, even though there was zero documentation by law enforcement that any ordinances or state laws had been used against peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities.

Violence is abhorrent, inside and outside an abortion facility. The buffer zone law has done nothing, and can do nothing, to prevent it.

So if the buffer zone doesn’t prevent violence, what’s its purpose? It was written to squelch unpopular speech. The last time a law similar to New Hampshire’s got to the Supreme Court, the Court threw it out on its figurative ear.

Supreme Court says there must be alternatives

A Planned Parenthood of Northern New England lobbyist testified in 2014 that a buffer zone was necessary, as attested by 60 complaints made by patients at the Manchester facility.

Complaints made to police? No. Those 60 complaints were made to PP. None resulted in any law enforcement involvement. So were any laws or ordinances broken in the course of those 60 complaints? Apparently not. Either PP didn’t report any complaints to the police – which even now makes me wonder just how seriously they take patient safety – or PP knew that the “complaints” didn’t rise to the level of criminal activity such as harassment, trespassing, disorderly conduct, or breach of the peace.

That’s not a good enough reason to keep a buffer zone law. Don’t take my word for it. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in McCullen v. Coakley, relative to a Massachusetts buffer zone law, that one could not impose First Amendment restrictions outside an abortion facility without first using less-severe alternatives to address objectionable behavior. In legal parlance, restrictions outside abortion facilities must be narrowly tailored.

The Court affirmed the right of states to impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of speech. Overbroad laws, however, won’t withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.

That old struck-down Massachusetts law was the model for the New Hampshire law, by the way.

To quote from Justice Roberts’s opinion in McCullen, which I repeat was a unanimous decision, even as the abortion-friendly Justice Ginsburg was participating:

To meet the requirement of narrow tailoring, the government must demonstrate that alterna­tive measures that burden substantially less speech would fail to achieve the government’s interests, not simply that the chosen route is easier. A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.

If Common­wealth officials can compile an extensive record of obstruc­tion and harassment to support their preferred legislation, we do not see why they cannot do the same to support injunctions and prosecutions against those who might deliberately flout the law.  

McCullen v. Coakley, 573 U.S. 464

You have to enforce other laws and ordinances before impeding anyone’s First Amendment rights. Simple. Yet since 2014, that fact has not been enough to persuade New Hampshire legislators to throw out the buffer zone law. Republicans and Democrats alike bear the responsibility for ignoring McCullen; it’s a bipartisan error.

Fun fact: Massachusetts taxpayers eventually had to pay $1.2 million in legal fees to the attorneys for Eleanor McCullen, the plaintiff in the Massachusetts case.

Law enforcement avoided

Even today, as buffer zone repeal is introduced, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England seems to avoid calling on law enforcement. From a flyer distributed to patients at its Manchester facility this month: If you feel that you have been harassed or threatened by anyone near the health center at your health care visit today, please send an email to share your thoughts or experience to the email addresses below. Your voice and your privacy are important, and your elected leaders should hear from you: Office of Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, email mayor@manchesternh.gov; Manchester ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, email long55@comcast.net. You can also call the Mayor’s office right now at (603) 624-6500.

Photo by Catherine Kelley. Used with permission.

There’s something missing from that flyer: contact information for the Manchester police. If patient safety were a concern, the police phone number would be listed first. It’s not listed at all.

How to contact House Judiciary Committee about HB 430

I’m going to urge the members of the House Judiciary Committee to vote OUGHT TO PASS on HB 430. Here’s how.

Sign in on HB 430 immediately. Don’t wait until the hearing begins; the committee might not see your sign-in. Use this online form: choose February 9, House Judiciary Committee, HB 430, representing self, supporting the bill; indicate if you plan to testify and the amount of time you think you’ll need. You may also email your testimony (see below).

Watch and participate in the hearing via Zoom online. (All public participation in hearings is remote for the time being.) Zoom log-in: https://www.zoom.us/j/96805083773, or dial 1-929-205-6099 (note: that is a toll number; keep that in mind if you’re calling from a landline!). The webinar ID is 968 0508 3773.

Email your written testimony to the Judiciary Committee as soon as possible; you need not testify via Zoom. An email to HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us will reach all committee members.

Don't buffer the First Amendment

Header photo: Michael Drummond/Pixabay.

N.H. House Judiciary life-issue hearings next week

Two bills to change New Hampshire’s policy of unrestricted abortion, along with bills to repeal the buffer zone law, bar public funding of abortion, and protect children born alive after attempted abortion, will be heard in the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee on February 9 and 10.

These measures respecting human life and conscience may be voted on by the committee at any time after the hearings, without a separately-scheduled session.

To me, some of these bills clearly show better legislative preparation than others. Some show more broad-based support than others. Read them for yourself – then act.

The committee will accept testimony remotely. There is no public access to the Legislative Office Building. You can sign in electronically anytime before the hearings to register your opinion. In an earlier post, I summarized the new testimony and sign-in procedures. Here’s a quick review, followed by details of the hearings and links to the bills.

How to weigh in

  • You can sign in on a bill before its hearing, even days before, so that committee members and staff have your opinion on record. No testimony is needed for this simple step. Signing in is easy. Share this link with like-minded friends: http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/remotetestimony/default.aspx
  • You can email the Judiciary Committee with your written opinion and testimony on any or all of these bills, using a separate message for each bill. A message to HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us will reach all 21 committee members.
  • You can testify online during the hearings, using the sign-in procedure in advance and then joining the online Zoom videoconference the day of the hearing. Links are below, taken from the February 5 House Calendar. Note that there is a telephone option as well. These hearings are likely to be lengthy.
  • You can listen to the hearings without testifying, by listening via Zoom. The NH House of Representatives Committee Streaming channel on YouTube may be another option.
  • What you cannot do is go to Concord and have face-to-face contact with the committee members, which makes electronic communication vitally important.

What’s the “FN” attached to some bills?

“FN” stands for Fiscal Note, a reference to the bill’s potential cost. It is not essential to include FN when contacting a legislator. For example, HB 233 and HB 233-FN refer to the same bill.

Tuesday, February 9

Zoom log-in: join any of Tuesday’s Judiciary hearings by going online to https://www.zoom.us/j/96805083773, or dialing 1-929-205-6099 (note: that is a toll number; keep that in mind if you’re calling from a landline!). The webinar ID is 968 0508 3773.

To sign in, registering your opinion: fill out this form on the House website, once for each bill. You will cite the hearing date, committee (Judiciary), bill number, and whether you support or oppose the bill. If you intend to testify, you may indicate that on the sign-in form. To share the sign-in link, use this URL: http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/remotetestimony/default.aspx

9 a.m.: combined hearing on two bills to restrict post-viability abortions

HB 622-FN: an act to protect nascent human life as a reasonable and valid state interest. This bill would bar abortion of a viable fetus, except in cases of “a clear and present danger to the life or health of the mother.” Sponsors: Reps. Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), Max Abramson (R-Seabrook), Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield), Mark Pearson (R-Hampstead).

HB 625-FN: the Fetal Life Protection Act, barring abortions after the fetus reaches 24 weeks gestational age, with exceptions for medical emergencies. Sponsors: Reps. Beth Folsom (R-Wentworth), Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien (R-Derry), Maureen Mooney (R-Merrimack), Linda Gould (R-Bedford), Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), Walter Stapleton, and Senators Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard) and Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead).

2 p.m.: buffer zone repeal

HB 430: the Sidewalk Free Speech Act, “repealing the prohibition on entering or remaining on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health facility.” This one has as many official sponsors as a bill is allowed to list: ten reps, five senators. Perhaps with this fifth attempt, lawmakers will finally repeal the anti-First-Amendment “buffer zone” law passed in 2014 but never enforced.

Sponsors: Reps. Niki Kelsey (R-Bedford), Hershel Nunez (R-Pelham), Tim Baxter (R-Seabrook), Linda Gould, Walter Stapleton, Maureen Mooney, Jeanine Notter, Mark Pearson, Vanessa Sheehan (R-Milford), Matt Simon (R-Littleton), and Sens. Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford), Regina Birdsell, Gary Daniels (R-Milford), Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), and Kevin Avard (R-Nashua).

Wednesday, February 10

Zoom log-in: join any of Wednesday’s Judiciary hearings by going online to https://www.zoom.us/j/91322816360, or dialing 1-929-205-6099 (note: that is a toll number; keep that in mind if you’re calling from a landline!). The webinar ID is 913 2281 6360.

To sign in, registering your opinion: fill out this form on the House website, once for each bill. You will cite the hearing date, committee (Judiciary), bill number, and whether you support or oppose the bill. If you intend to testify, you may indicate that on the sign-in form. To share the sign-in link, use this URL: http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/remotetestimony/default.aspx

9 a.m.: combined hearing on two bills to bar public funding of abortions

HB 434: the No Public Funds for Abortion Act. This one does what looks like a thorough job of ruling out avenues for state-level taxpayer funding of abortion, with exceptions for “abortion performed when the life of the mother is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.” Sponsors: Reps. Vanessa Sheehan, Maureen Mooney, Kim Rice (R-Hudson), Jim Creighton (R-Antrim), Matt Simon, Mark Pearson, Linda Gould, Debra DeSimone (R-Atkinson), Bill King (R-Milford), Diane Pauer (R-Brookline), and Senators Gary Daniels, Denise Ricciardi, and Ruth Ward.

HB 596-FN: the Life Appropriation Act, barring state funding of “convenience” abortions, including funding to agencies that perform such abortions, even if potential funding is for a non-abortion purpose. The bill would also establish a Foster Care and Adoption Initiative Fund. Sponsor: Rep. Fred Plett (R-Goffstown).

1 p.m.: born-alive infant protection

HB 233-FN: the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. “Any born alive infant, including one born in the course of an abortion, shall be treated as a legal person under the laws of this state, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” Sponsors: Reps. Jordan Ulery (R-Hudson) and Walter Stapleton.

Share this information

The committee needs to get public comment before the hearings. Every sign-in counts, even without testimony attached. The tallies are going to be news, watched not only by committee members and the customary observers, but also – unless I miss my guess – by Governor Sununu.

According to an email from its “director of advocacy,” the New Hampshire Medical Society will be opposing all of these measures. That includes buffer zone repeal, which has no bearing on abortion itself and is purely a First Amendment issue. Pro-life medical professionals, take note. The Society will speak up. Will you?

Post header image by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay.