Buffer zone repeal falls victim to crossover deadline

Faced with a deadline for vacating its borrowed venue, the New Hampshire House ended crossover day by effectively tabling a number of bills including HB 430, buffer zone repeal.

The House met on April 7, 8, and 9 at NH Sportsplex in Bedford, allowing for seating spaced according to current COVID protocols. Friday the 9th was crossover day, the deadline for all bills originating in the House this year to be disposed of one way or another. Leaders in both parties knew in advance that the Sportsplex needed the House to adjourn by early Friday evening in order to accommodate other users of the facility.

The deadline came, with many bills still unaddressed. Result: in the absence of a vote, the unaddressed bills – including buffer zone repeal – will not advance in 2021.

At this writing, the docket for HB 430 lists its status as “miscellaneous.” That’s one way to put it.

Screenshot of HB 430 docket, from gencourt.state.nh.us, accessed 4/12/2021

To my knowledge, there is nothing to prevent these deferred bills from coming back in 2022, since that will be part of the same legislative biennium.

This isn’t over. Repeal bills will keep popping up, year after year. There ought not be room in New Hampshire law for a statute that allows a private entity to bar the presence of peaceful people from a public space.

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law permits managers of abortion facilities to determine where and when the public may be present on public property within “up to 25 feet” of a facility.

The buffer zone law was signed by then-Governor Maggie Hassan in 2014 with support from abortion lobbyists, despite the McCullen v. Coakley decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court the same month striking down a similar Massachusetts law.

For links to Leaven for the Loaf coverage of the buffer zone law since its introduction, see “The Buffer Zone Story.”

Header photo: Michael Drummond/Pixabay

Buffer zone vote delayed

Update on HB 430: the New Hampshire House will vote on buffer zone repeal at its next session, on a date to be announced soon. HB 430 was one of 17 calendared bills left hanging when the House ran up against a hard deadline at its borrowed venue in Bedford.

There’s no word yet on when the House will once again meet in Representatives Hall at the State House. Thus far in 2020, the House has met at University of New Hampshire facilities and, most recently, at the Bedford Sportsplex, in order to observe COVID precautions including social distancing.

Committee: thumbs-down to life-issue bills; full House vote soon

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee frowned on the life-issue bills that come before it last week. The full House will meet on Wednesday, February 24 and Thursday, February 25 to vote on the committee’s “Inexpedient to Legislate” (ITL) recommendations.

On three of the bills, the votes were 11-10 on ITL motions, with Republican committee chairman Edward “Ned” Gordon joining the committee’s ten Democrats in the majority.

Usually, overturning a committee report on the House floor is challenging. Most House members don’t have time to research every bill, and so they lean heavily on the brief committee reports printed in the House calendar.

They also lean on two other things: recommendations from party leadership, and messages from constituents. Most of us can’t control the former. You can definitely influence the latter.

Contacting your representatives

Look up your representatives’ names and contact information, and reach out to them with brief, clear, courteous messages before February 24. Anger is counterproductive; long messages won’t be read; clarity reduces confusion.

My own message to my reps on the bills with 11-10 ITL recommendations will be as straightforward as I can make it: reject the Judiciary Committee’s majority reports, and then vote Ought to Pass on HB 233 (born-alive protection), HB 430 (buffer zone repeal), and HB 625 (protecting preborn children after 24 weeks’ gestation). And for crying out loud ask for roll call votes.

Explaining the votes: committee reports

The House Calendar for next week’s session contains the reports on each bill, majority and minority. Here are excerpts, along with a few irrepressible comments from me. The words from the reports are in italics.

HB 233, protection for infants who survive attempted abortions

The majority report recommending Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 233 was written by Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), who took a different tack from her claim on a born-alive bill last year that “there’s no such thing as an abortion up until birth.” This time, she offered a few other reasons for not providing enforceable protection for children surviving attempted abortion. “It provides that legislators, not parents and their physicians, should determine appropriate medical care….Infants with a few moments, hours, or days would be taken out of the arms of their parents, hooked up to machines, and their parents would be denied the right to say how these last moments of a child’s life would be spent. The majority concluded that passage of this bill was not in the best interests of the state or its citizens.”

That last sentence chills me. I devoutly hope that you never have to think about whether your own care needs to be evaluated through the lens of “the best interests of the state.”

Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) wrote a minority report on behalf of the ten committee members who supported the bill. “We ask no more than that ‘medically appropriate and reasonable care’ be provided to every baby born; no matter the circumstances of birth, no matter if the baby is wanted or not….The decision of what is medically appropriate and/ or reasonable remains where it has been, with medical providers and families….The choice is simple but profound: life or death for a helpless child.”

HB 430, buffer zone repeal

Rep. Alexis Simpson (D-Exeter) wrote the “Inexpedient to Legislate” report for HB 430. “The current law allows flexibility for communities to tailor a zone according to local factors and public safety needs.” I can’t let that pass without comment: communities have no authorization under law to set up buffer zones. Managers of abortion facilities do. “…This bill would repeal the law passed in 2014 that authorized flexible, non-arbitrary, ‘buffer zones’ around reproductive health care facilities to provide for patient safety….the current law allowing health care centers to establish buffer zones that suit their local situations should remain in place.”

That “non-arbitrary” bit was a nice touch, as fiction goes. The law delegates the authority to set up a zone to an abortion facility manager, an employee of a private concern, who determines the zone’s location and extent (“up to 25 feet”), and even whether or when a zone is needed. Merriam-Webster offers a definition of “arbitrary“: “depending on individual discretion and not fixed by law.”

Rep. Mark McLean (R-Manchester), for the ten reps dissenting from the ITL report: “…the US Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts buffer zone law upon which this law is based, and the call for a repeal of its New Hampshire counterpart has followed ever since. The minority of the committee expressed the belief that existing criminal threatening laws are adequate to address security concerns at reproductive health care facilities, and noted that no facility has ever implemented the law’s provisions in spite of the urgent need expressed by its supporters.”

HB 625, Fetal Life Protection Act

New Hampshire offers no protection for preborn children at any point in pregnancy. HB 625 would change that by restricting abortion after 24 weeks’ gestational age, with an exception for the life of the mother.

That was too much for the ten Judiciary Democrats and Republican Rep. Gordon. Rep. Marjorie Smith wrote the majority’s ITL report, saying in part: “This bill sets an extremely narrow exception to the prohibition of abortion, excluding emotional, psychological, and other health factors worthy of consideration as determined by a patient and the patient’s doctor. Not even rape or incest would be a permissible exception. Viability varies with each pregnancy. It has no predictive value in utero. It is only after birth that viability might become a relevant measure.”

Rep. Kimberly Rice (R-Hudson) offered the minority’s view. From her report: “This bill prohibits abortions on babies older than 24 weeks who can live outside of the mother’s womb, except when the alternative poses significant risk to the life or health of the mother. This bill implements the compelling state interest in protecting viable babies and minimizes risk to the mother’s health. This is about the values that define us….Testimony showed this bill to be consistent with standards of care for pregnant women who present with very difficult pregnancies. The minority of the committee believes that New Hampshire should never be a haven for those like Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania abortionist who heartlessly snipped the spinal cords of ‘accidentally’ born babies. We are proud to support legislation that reflects our values and protects the sanctity of human life. The minority stands in the gap, defending the most defenseless, and giving voice to the voiceless. New Hampshire should join the many states with post-viability bans by adopting this bill.”

Related bills

What about related bills heard last week?

HB 622, protecting nascent human life as a reasonable and valid state interest, was retained in committee and will not go before the House until 2022. Watch for a committee work session next fall.

HB 596, with its single sponsor, addressed public funding of abortion. The committee report explains the 20-1 ITL vote: “It became clear at the hearing that HB 434 had much greater support and was the preferred alternative. While many committee members support the intent of this bill, it did not make sense to have the two bills competing with each other.” As for that “preferred alternative,” HB 434 suffered one of those 11-10 ITL votes. It is not listed on the House calendar for February 24-25.

Header image: Cottonbro/Pexels.

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.

N.H. House Kills Buffer Zone Repeal Bill

The New Hampshire House has voted “inexpedient to legislate” on a bill to repeal the state’s buffer zone law. The ITL motion passed on a vote of 228-141.

Roll call is here. Note that the motion was “inexpedient to legislate,” so a Yea vote was a vote to kill the repeal bill. A Yea vote was a vote in favor of keeping the buffer zone law.

Representatives Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), Max Abramson (R-Seabrook), Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), and Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) spoke in favor of repeal. Rep. Abramson warned his colleagues about the constitutional defects of the law in light of the McCullen decision. Rep. Notter echoed that concern, saying, “The day the buffer zone is actually posted, I guarantee that litigation will ensue, costing us millions.”

Reps. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) and Sandra Keans (D-Rochester) defended the buffer zone law. Rep. Altschiller called it a “thoughtfully passed” measure to “remedy the harassment.” She then said that 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, and 42 bombings presumably related to abortion had occurred since Roe v. Wade. She did not mention that these numbers did not refer to New Hampshire.