A Difference of Opinion

[Update: according to a reliable source, an amendment is forthcoming addressing the concern I describe here. Any amendment would need to be approved by committee before being incorporated into the bill. I post further updates as needed.]

Every now and then, I draft a post and then sit on it overnight. That’s usually when I’m really worked up over something. Twelve hours later, do I still feel the same way? If the answer’s Yes, I hit “send.” And so it goes with today’s offering.

I’m troubled by House Bill 1511, which had its hearing in the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice Committee this week. The bill would amend the state’s new fetal homicide law regarding unborn victims of violence. I figured I’d hold off on addressing the bill until I heard the chief sponsor’s testimony, in case I was missing something obvious. Now, I don’t think I am.

HB 1511 would change the fetal homicide law in two ways: change the point in pregnancy at which the law could be invoked, from the current 20 weeks to 8 weeks; and remove the immunity from criminal charges for acts committed by a pregnant woman relative to the fetus.

I have no problem with an 8-weeks provision. I have a big problem with removing the existing law’s language that explicitly exempts maternal acts from prosecution. That would be a substantive change to the law, not a paring of superfluous language.

I wasn’t alone in my concern. Seated next to me at this week’s hearing was Leon Rideout, who played a big role in getting our fetal homicide law passed. The plain language of HB 1511 was enough to prompt him to make the long drive to Concord to warn about removing the maternal exemption.

Fetal homicide statutes are not about personhood, and they convey no rights upon a fetus. Fetal homicide laws are about letting prosecutors bring homicide charges against anyone whose bad action causes the death of a preborn child against the will of the mother. 

Removing that last condition – against the will of the mother – would play into every abortion advocate’s mischaracterization of fetal homicide legislation as a tool to lock women up. (About forty other states have fetal homicide laws, all of them coexisting with legal abortion.)

If I understand the chief sponsor correctly, he believes the explicit maternal exemption in New Hampshire’s law is unnecessary, since such an exemption is implicit elsewhere in the law. I disagree. I’m not a lawyer (and neither is the sponsor of HB 1511), but I can read.

Throughout the years of struggle that culminated in the passage in 2017 of New Hampshire’s fetal homicide law, abortion advocates fought such bills tooth and nail. They claimed that the bills were back-door ways to prosecute women, even when the bills said otherwise.

At the same time, they ignored a 2009 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision that said our state’s failure to have a fetal homicide law forced them to dismiss a homicide charge against a drunk driver whose victims included a child, delivered prematurely, who died of injuries sustained in utero when the drunk driver struck the child’s mother.

Rationality finally prevailed in 2017 when Governor Sununu signed SB 66. The Governor, a self-styled pro-choice politician whose idea of health care includes sending my tax money to abortion providers, recognized that a fetal homicide law had no bearing on abortion. Along with a majority of legislators, he was happy to heed the state Supreme Court’s call to bring New Hampshire’s homicide statutes up to date.

Getting to that point was long and sometimes painful process of negotiation and compromise. One sticking point with SB 66 was deciding at what point in pregnancy the law could be invoked. Elsewhere, some states have fetal homicide laws that apply throughout pregnancy. Some states’ laws go into effect at fetal viability or at a certain number of weeks’ gestation. When the dust settled in Concord last year, 20 weeks was the compromise.

Moving the effective time of New Hampshire’s fetal homicide law from twenty weeks’ fetal gestation to eight weeks, or to any other specified time, would still leave the nature of the law intact.

Removing the explicit maternal exemption would not.

Since this blog was launched, I’ve covered New Hampshire fetal homicide bills closely. Every time I pointed out that a fetal homicide bill would shield women from prosecution, I meant it. I took seriously the clear and explicit maternal-exemption language of HB 217 in 2012 and HB 1503 in 2014 and HB 560 and SB 40 in 2015 and HB 156 and SB 66 in 2017.

That language was an integral part of the fetal homicide legislation signed by Governor Sununu. I don’t see how it can be torn out of the law without gutting the law.

The sponsors of HB 1511 are all experienced legislators whose good will I have no reason to question. On this bill as introduced, though, I flat-out disagree with them.

I’ll be happy to post their responses in the comments, should any of them be inclined to send one.

Top Posts 2017, Part 2: a Hard-Fought Victory

Part one is at this link.

Here are the blog’s top five posts, measured by number of views. We’ll do it like a pageant…runners-up first, ending with the winner.

#5: New Hampshire House Approves Fetal Homicide Bill

State House, Concord NH

Not to put any spoilers in here, but SB 66 – the fetal homicide bill – was the most closely-watched bill of the year in Concord, as far as Leaven for the Loaf’s readers were concerned. You’ll see more about this further along in the list.

This post documents the intense debate and five votes that went into House passage of SB 66.

 

#4: Pro-life Women Disinvited from Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

There was a Women’s March in Washington in January (how quickly we forget!), and pro-life women were told to stay home and behave themselves. Well, no, we weren’t told to behave – just to stay away.  Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists refused to take that particular order.

 

#3: 40 Days for Life Local Opening Events

Readers wanted news about the spring 2017 40 Days for Life campaigns. The team in Greenland, New Hampshire continued its faithful witness, while campaign leader Beth Gaby brought 40DFL back to Concord.

The next 40 Days for Life campaign begins February 14, 2018.

40 Days for Life vigil, Concord NH
Final vigil hour, 40DFL Spring 2017, Concord NH

#2: New Contact Information for Federal Reps

The 2016 federal election left readers ready to stay in touch with New Hampshire’s solidly pro-abortion federal delegation. Don’t let up! Maybe it’s time to invite them to the March for Life in Concord or Washington (or Concord AND Washington) so they can broaden their horizons a bit.

 

#1: Governor Signs Fetal Homicide Law as Families Look On

This one left all of 2017’s other posts in the dust. I wasn’t the only one to rejoice in the signing of a fetal homicide law, almost two decades after the first such bill was introduced in Concord. Sarah and Griffin’s Law was named for two children whose families simply would not quit working for the law.

Families celebrate passage of N.H. fetal homicide law
Moms Deana Crucitti & Ashlyn Rideout (front); dads Nathan Crucitti & Daniel Kenison (rear middle & right) after SB 66 was signed into law.

Governor Chris Sununu followed through on his commitment to sign fetal homicide legislation if it came to his desk. He had plenty of company as he did the deed.

Gov. Sununu signs SB 66
Gov. Chris Sununu signs SB 66, New Hampshire’s fetal homicide law

I went to the State House for the signing ceremony, unsure if I could get in. I had been told it would be a quiet event in the Governor’s office. Didn’t work out that way. Griffin Kenison’s extended family was there, several generations deep. The Crucitti family was there. The elected officials who doggedly persisted in seeing the bill through were there. The festivities were moved to the Executive Council chamber to accommodate the crowd.

I told Griffin’s great-aunt that day that I had just about given up on ever seeing a fetal homicide law in New Hampshire. I’ll never forget the look she gave me as she said, “Shame on you.” She was right. Her family’s hope and persistence will inspire me for a long time to come.

Top posts 2017, part 1: Marching for Life; Legislative Disappointment

Leaven for the Loaf’s most popular posts for 2017 are heavy on State House action, reflecting an eventful year. But wait – there’s more. Here’s a review of five of the ten most-viewed posts from 2017. Watch for the top five later this week.

New Hampshire March for Life Gallery

January’s March for Life in Concord was sponsored once again by New Hampshire Right to Life, with featured speaker Jennifer Lahl. People came from all over New Hampshire, peacefully resolved to defend the right to life.

Situational Personhood

On the same day that the House debated a fetal homicide bill, it also took up a bill from the Commerce committee related to trusts. Lo and behold, the trusts bill referred to “unborn person.” The trusts bill somehow got by without scrutiny from the same people who were afraid a fetal homicide law would confer personhood.

My thanks to Rep. Jeanine Notter, who came to the gallery the day of the debate to show me the Commerce bill. The irony of the term “unborn person” was not lost on her.

 

Fetal Homicide and Women’s Rights: Remember These Women

In their Concord testimony, opponents of fetal homicide legislation usually gave a pro forma gee-I’m-sorry nod to bereaved parents before going on to say that the legislation would interfere with women’s rights. I decided it was time to highlight the women whose children had died in utero in legal limbo: dead due to someone else’s actions, but not a victim under law.

 

Help Open St. Gianna’s Place

A dedicated group of volunteers is working to open another shelter for pregnant and parenting women in New Hampshire. This post is from last April, and the effort to find and fund a house is still underway.

Learn more, and join the effort, at stgiannasplace.org.

 

N.H. House Rejects Post-Viability Limit on Abortion

“All nine months: that’s how far into pregnancy abortion is legal in New Hampshire. Viable, non-viable, with or without ‘anomalies’: all irrelevant. What’s more, any abortion-minded woman in New Hampshire is entitled to a dead baby, not merely a terminated pregnancy.

“Rep. Keith Murphy and ten co-sponsors brought forward HB 578 in an effort to push back against that bit of barbarity. Murphy took Justice Blackmun at his word as expressed in Roe v. Wade: the state may assert an interest in the preborn child once that child is viable.

The New Hampshire House had a chance to stand with Murphy. The House refused.”

There’s good news, though: Rep. Murphy has introduced another bill along the same lines, to be considered in the 2018 session.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, featuring the story that far and away drew the most attention this year.

Governor Signs Fetal Homicide Law as Families Look On

Sarah and Griffin’s Law has been signed. I was determined to see this happen, in person. I wouldn’t believe it otherwise.

Gov. Chris Sununu signs Sarah and Griffin’s Law, June 30, 2017, as chief sponsor Sen. Regina Birdsell (green blazer) watches.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 66 on June 30, and now the fetal homicide measure will be known as Sarah and Griffin’s Law. It will go into effect January 1, 2018.

At that time, prosecutors will have the option of bringing a homicide charge against a person whose violent actions cause the death of a preborn child at or after 20 weeks’ gestation, against the will of the mother.

Fetal homicide was one of the first topics I tackled on this blog. I haven’t shut up about it, actually. The state Supreme Court’s 2009 plea in the Lamy case has never been far from my mind. Overturning a drunk driver’s homicide conviction for killing a child who died from injuries sustained in utero by the drunk driver’s actions, the Court told the legislature it would have to update state law in order for such a charge to stick.

Finally, the legislature and a governor have answered the Supreme Court with something other than “meh.”

Moms Deana Crucitti & Ashlyn Rideout (front); dads Nathan Crucitti & Daniel Kenison (rear middle & right) after SB 66 was signed into law.

The families of Griffin Kenison and Sarah Crucitti were at the Governor’s side as he signed the law. Their extended families, children included, filled the Executive Council chamber. Some held photos of Griffin and Sarah.

Sarah’s mother Deana Crucitti and Griffin’s mother Ashlyn Rideout embraced before the ceremony. I started to take a photo of them and then backed off.  In the middle of that crowded room, it was an unmistakably private moment.

Three generations of Griffin’s family were there, including “Grammy Shirley,” who told me with deep emotion three years ago “we’re on a crusade.” 

It was a year ago yesterday that then-Executive Councilor Sununu switched his vote and voted “Yea” on a state contract with abortion providers – a contract that the Council had rejected with his help a few months earlier.

It’s been seven months since a concerned pro-life Republican challenged the self-identified “pro-choice” gubernatorial candidate Sununu, asking him what pro-life initiatives he could support. The candidate responded by writing that he could support five in particular. (Text of the letter is at the bottom of this link.)

Fetal homicide was #1 on the list.

I give him credit for keeping his word.

I give credit to Leon Rideout, Sen. Regina Birdsell, Rep. Kathy Souza (who has worked for a fetal homicide bill for more than 20 years), and all the legislators who co-sponsored fetal homicide bills over the years.

I give credit to Ovide Lamontagne, who last year elicited Chris Sununu’s written support for fetal homicide legislation.

I give credit to retired Supreme Court Justice James Duggan, author of the Lamy decision, who placed the ball squarely in the legislature’s court eight years ago.

I give most of the credit to the families who lost their children and who came to Concord again and again to tell their stories.

When former Rep. Leon Rideout, Griffin’s grandfather, introduced a fetal homicide bill in 2014, I covered the hearings. There I met family members including Griffin’s aunt Robin. We spoke today after the signing.

“I didn’t think I’d live to see this day,” I told her. I wasn’t kidding.

She gave me a no-nonsense look. “Shame on you.” She wasn’t kidding, either.

Lesson learned: never give up.


 

House and Senate Approve SB 66 Amendment

Update to recent post: In the final legislative session of 2017, the New Hampshire House and Senate accepted an amendment to SB 66 to correct a drafting error. The bill still has the 20-week provision that drew the ire this month of some pro-life activists.

Barring yet another unexpected detour, the next stop for the fetal homicide bill should be Governor Sununu’s desk. Given his expression of support for such legislation, signing this one ought to be easy. I’ll certainly encourage him to do so. His office phone number is 603-271-2121.