Pro-life policies in state budget: victory with an expiration date (UPDATED)

Update, 7/8/21: I am indebted to an attorney well-versed in pro-life policy who called me out on claiming that the language cited below would expire in two years. Instead, I’ll try for more clarity: it’s possible that it might not survive the next budget process. More about that below, in boldface.

For the first time since 1997, New Hampshire has a law limiting late-term abortion. Well, we’ll have one as of next January 1, and it may only be good – I said “may” – until the expiration of the budget on June 30, 2023. Still, after nearly a quarter-century, the Granite State will move ahead past the era of unregulated abortion.

I wondered if flipping the House and Senate would make a difference. Turns out it did.

It has taken me a couple of weeks to process this news. It’s stunning to me, as someone who was an activist even before 1997, to see this victory. Our pro-choice governor kept the word he gave in 2016. Pro-life reps worked to get pro-life language into the budget, after the Senate stalled a freestanding bill that would have done the job. Some pro-life budget conferees – who were Republicans, as it happens – wouldn’t let the provision be tossed out during budget negotiations.

We still don’t have abortion statistics, or a requirement that only medical personnel provide abortions (remember that the next time someone tells you abortion is a private “medical” decision), or conscience protection for health care workers who choose not to participate in the direct intentional termination of human life.

We can bet that the pro-life provisions in this budget will be up for debate and rejection in two years when the next budget is crafted. We can bet that the people promoting unregulated abortion will be fighting back, and in fact are doing so already.

So who wants it more? Do pro-life Granite Staters want to build on this victory?

What’s a pro-life law doing in the state budget?

Take a look at HB 2, the so-called trailer bill to HB 1. Together, the bills make up the state budget. The first few pages of HB 2 contain 139 specific spending instructions. As is traditional in the New Hampshire budget process, a bunch of bills that failed in the most recent legislative session found their way into HB 2. Topics ranged all over the place, so pro-life goals were hardly uppermost in budget crafters’ minds.

Number 15 among those 139 instructions is summarized thus in the bill’s analysis: “Prohibits the distribution of state funds awarded by the department of health and human services to a reproductive health care facility for provision of abortion services, and prohibits a health care provider from performing an abortion if the gestational age of the fetus is at least 24 weeks unless there is a medical emergency.”

Further along in the bill, on line 32 of page 13, we get the legislative name for this provision: “The Fetal Life Protection Act.” Sound familiar? It’s HB 625 from the past session.

Look at HB 2, page 14 line 14 to page 19 line 1. There’s the 24-week abortion limit.

HB 625 was passed by the House and tabled in the Senate. Thanks to pro-life legislators, the substance of the bill was rolled into HB 2. The usual suspects squawked, but the language survived the budget negotiation process. When Governor Sununu signed HB 1 and 2 into law, the pro-life language went into effect – but only on January 1, 2022, and it possibly might stand only for the duration of the current budget which will expire on June 30, 2023. [Note: an earlier version of this post said that the pro-life language would expire. In fact, the language MIGHT expire if the next legislature chooses to stick a repeal measure into 2023’s HB 2.]

Updated 7/8/21: I fear that the lesson here will be “live by HB 2, die by HB 2.” Sticking a long-sought pro-life provision into the state budget, the ultimate omnibus bill, was a successful tactic this year. You know what might be a successful tactic next time a budget is crafted in 2023? Inserting a repeal of the Fetal Life Protection Act into the state budget. It all depends who’s in the majority and who’s willing to defend pro-life policy. If pro-life policy was supported in this year’s budget – and it was – it will be just as easy for abortion advocates to repeal it in the next one.

Protecting taxpayers from funding abortion

What about taxpayer funding? Go to HB 2, page 13 line 32. In state contracts, “no state funds shall be used to subsidize abortions, either directly or indirectly.” This is backed up by an audit requirement. This is great to see in these days when the federal authorities take a very different line.

If an audit of a state contractor finds that state contract funds have been used to subsidize abortion, the contractor shall be ineligible for future state contracts or grants, OR shall “suspend all operations until such time as the state funded family planning project is physically and financially separate from any reproductive health facility.”

Will that be enforced? We’ll see.

On “seismic shifts”

Here’s a July 4 New Hampshire Sunday News headline, front page above the fold: “Some women see betrayal in budget’s social policies.” A paywall may prevent you from seeing the entire article, but the opening lines give you the gist. “Many New Hampshire women say they feel angry, outraged, even threatened, after state lawmakers inserted a number of social policies, including new abortion restrictions, into the state budget trailer bill. For many, the current atmosphere in Concord feels like a seismic shift in a state with a long history of trailblazing women.”

There’s been a seismic shift, all right, and it isn’t about undermining trailblazing women. It’s about pro-life women and their allies finally earning a seat at the table and refusing to be treated as tokens. It’s about coalition building and coalition management that has not always come easy to pro-life policymakers. It’s a seismic shift for any New Hampshire leader calling himself pro-choice to sign legislation that upsets abortion extremists.

I say bring on the seismic shifts. They’ve been a long time coming.

On an inside page of the Sunday News article, a pro-life voice is finally mentioned. Shannon McGinley of Cornerstone Action pointed out that not all women see “betrayal” in the budget. “Seven women legislators sponsored HB 625….I believe that women understand that abortion has not liberated women and that we can do better than abortion….”

In various posts I keep referring to Cornerstone Action, on whose behalf I used to lobby. No promotion or self-interest is involved. It’s just that they happen to have provided the most clarity as HB 625 and then the budget made their way through the legislative process. See their FAQs on the late-term abortion ban and their about-time-somebody-said-it “Pro-abortion Leaders are Lying about HB 2 Ultrasound Requirements.”

Next steps

Thank Governor Sununu. The man has done some infuriating things, but he got this one right. Tell him so.

Pray and work. If you’re involved in front-line pro-life ministry, make sure the community knows that the ministry exists.

Women who DON’T feel “betrayed” by pro-life policies might want to tell the Union Leader, after that July 4 front-page article. A social media post with a @UnionLeader tag would do, as would a more traditional letter to the editor. While you’re reading that article, take note of the people and organizations who opposed pro-life language.

Practice persuasion, even on legislation that doesn’t directly address anyone’s right to life. Extremism has held sway in Concord for so long that some legislators think conscience rights don’t exist where abortion is concerned. Some have forgotten that the First Amendment applies to peaceful pro-life witnesses. Remind them, as a neighbor.

To all who helped bring about this particular seismic shift, well done.

Author: Ellen Kolb

New Hampshire-based writer, activist, hiker.