NH bill to “buffer” 1st Amendment

PPNNE's Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.
PPNNE’s Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.

Eight New Hampshire legislators are co-sponsoring a bill to impose a 25-foot “buffer zone” around abortion facilities. Senate bill 319 seeks to criminalize the act of entering or remaining within 25 feet of any entrance, exit, or driveway of a “reproductive health care facility.” The minimum fine for violation would be $100.

The bill’s prime sponsor is Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester). Co-sponsors are Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), Sen. Bob Odell (R-Lempster), Sen. Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton), and Representatives Patrick Long (D-Manchester), Mary Heath (D-Manchester), and Candace Bouchard (D-Concord). No hearing date has yet been set for the bill, which will get its initial hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry).

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule by late June on the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer around abortion facilities in that state. When residents of Concord, New Hampshire submitted a petition to the City Council a few months ago seeking a buffer zone around the Feminist Health Center on South Main Street, the city attorney recommended that no action be taken before the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the Massachusetts law. New Hampshire legislators have decided to go ahead in advance of Court action.

SB 319 would not apply to persons entering or leaving the abortion facility, municipal employees acting within the scope of employment, and people passing by the facility enroute to another destination.

The bill’s statement of findings and purposes begins with acknowledgments that facility access is a right that must be protected, as is the First Amendment right to “protest or counsel against certain medical procedures.”  The right to pray silently outside an abortion facility is not specified as a right that must be protected.

These additional findings are part of the bill and would be codified in law if the bill passes:

“Recent demonstrations outside of reproductive health facilities have resulted in the fear and intimidation of patients and employees of these facilities … have caused patients and employees of these facilities to believe that their safety and right of privacy are threatened … have resulted in the fear and intimidation of residents and patrons seeking to enter or leave their homes or other private businesses adjacent to the reproductive health care facilities.

“The general court [legislature] further finds that it is in the interest of public health, safety and welfare to regulate the use of public sidewalks and streets adjacent to reproductive health care facilities to promote the free flow of traffic on streets and sidewalks, reduce disputes and potentially violent confrontations requiring significant law enforcement services, protect property rights, protect First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression and secure a citizen’s right to seek reproductive health care services.” 

Potentially violent confrontations?

Praying outside PP in Manchester (E. Kolb photo)
Praying outside PP in Manchester (E. Kolb photo)

I took this photo during the last 40 Days for Life campaign in Manchester. It shows people praying quietly outside an abortion facility, moving along so as not to block the driveway. All 40DFL participants sign a written pledge to engage in nonviolent behavior even in the face of provocation.


Free flow of traffic on streets and sidewalks?

Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.
Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.

These people were praying outside the Feminist Health Center in Concord when I visited one day to measure what a 35-foot buffer might look like around the property. They accosted no one. The sidewalk flow was no different from the flow on the other side of the street. SB 319 would push these people away from the FHC. (They could then move to the front entrance of the Chamber of Commerce across the street, by the way, where prayer and protest would presumably remain legal.)

Contact information for senators and representatives can be found here, using the links “Find your representatives” and “New Senate roster.”

Related posts: PPNNE is having “conversations” about no-protest zones; Thirty-five feet in theory and practice

Three indications Obamacare is NOT about to fall apart

I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I am not a fan of Obamacare. I have to admit that I take a grim pleasure in the news about the administrative foul-ups that have complicated the “rollout.”

I am skeptical that any complication or delay will lead to substantive changes in the misnamed “Affordable Care Act.” Even the current tinkering with the individual mandate doesn’t make me feel much better. The Administration’s #1 concern seems to be that the public is having trouble with the web site. What happens once the web site is up and running? ACA implementation will proceed apace. Obamacare as we know it is perfectly safe. Here are three reasons I’m not breaking out the champagne over ACA glitches.

Kathleen Sebelius is still Secretary of HHS.

As long as Secretary Sebelius holds down her Health and Human Services job, we know the Administration is not having second thoughts about Obamacare. Sebelius has been the second-biggest advocate, cheerleader, and apologist for the program since the day Nancy Pelosi brought down her gavel and jubilantly announced “The bill is passed!” President Obama and Sebelius are the faces of the ACA.

If she were to leave her post during this President’s tenure, it would look as though the ACA were a dead horse she got tired of beating. If Obama were to let Sebelius go, he’d be acknowledging substantive trouble with his pet law. As long as he keeps her, he shows confidence in the legislation.

The White House is still saying birth control is “essential to women’s health care” and is still telling Americans how to practice religious beliefs.

In a White House statement issued last month after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take the Hobby Lobby case, the press secretary speaking for the Administration affirmed “The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge [emphasis added]….The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds.  These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families–not their bosses or corporate CEOs–can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.”

Consumer control of health care decisions means no co-pay? I haven’t seen any comparable White House statement about how awful it is that bosses or corporate CEOs make personal health decisions for families by denying 100% coverage of diabetes regulation – which is after all preventive in a logical if not political sense, given how uncontrolled diabetes destroys health. If giving women and families full control of health decisions means not having any co-pays for birth control, how can ANY co-pay stand under law?

So suppression of fertility is still the same thing as cancer screening in the eyes of the Obama Administration. Women’s fertility, that is. Once that falsehood is abandoned by the President and a majority in Congress, Obamacare will lose one of its essential supports.

The White House continues to say that “commensense accommodation” has rendered all religious challenges to the ACA moot. More than eighty pending lawsuits say otherwise. “Religious organizations” as defined by the Administration are accommodated. Individuals holding to the same religious tenets as those organizations are not. That’s the trouble with the HHS mandate.

Republicans in Congress have not as a majority body expended political capital to challenge the mandate, and Democrats are only too happy to elevate contraception above the Constitution. That means the HHS mandate will stand, unless the Supreme Court throws it out. As long as the mandate stands, so does Obamacare.

Lack of cybersecurity hasn’t brought Obamacare to a screeching halt.

There’s no one left in a Cabinet-level Administration post who can say with a straight face that the information Americans enter into a computer in order to sign up for the ACA is secure. Privacy is not a serious consideration within the law, nor has it ever been. Once that changes, I’ll know Obamacare is in trouble – because that will mean a full stop to the law while the technical side is re-developed.

John Fund in a recent column summarized how HHS addressed security concerns in Obamacare’s early days, based on the Federal Register from March 27, 2012: “At that meeting, two commenters asked HHS to ensure the exchanges would promptly notify affected enrollees in the event of a data breach or unauthorized access to the exchange’s databases. One commenter suggested that a full investigation be launched each time such a breach occurred, with the goal of holding hackers legally and financially accountable for breaking into the website. According to a report by the group Watchdog.org, HHS responded: ‘We do not plan to include the specific notification procedures in the final rule. Consistent with this approach, we do not include specific policies for investigation of data breaches in this final rule.’ In other words, the government doesn’t have to tell you about a security breach unless it decides it wants to — despite the fact that private companies are required to publicly disclose any incidents. State laws also require many of the 14 state-run insurance exchanges to disclose such information, but no such law exists for the federally run exchange, which 36 states rely upon.”

Imagine a private company being so cavalier about data breaches. A recent breach at Target stores resulted in quick detection and immediate efforts to warn consumers. If the company had been any slower to react, Target’s CEO would be getting grilled in Washington right now, with cameras rolling and politicians thundering about the evils of Big Business. Corporate heads would roll. The same behavior in a government agency doesn’t bring forth quite the same reaction.

And by the way …

Don’t confuse ACA implementation with health care. What kind of metric have you heard of that HHS might use to measure outcomes from ACA? Will we know in five years how many people have coverage, compared to today?

Probably not. The baseline the government will use to measure coverage will probably be how many people had ACA-compliant policies before the ACA was in place. Wonderful. We’ll have a meaningless statistic that will keep us in the dark about the only health-coverage question that ought to matter to HHS: how many Americans are getting CARE? Not insurance coverage, but actual care. Not how many dollars we’re spending on Medicaid and insurance subsidies, but how many people need health care and aren’t getting it.

Will Americans be healthier in five years, or will they just be filling out different forms at their clinics?

Obamacare seems to be set up to keep that information obscured. Insurance equals care, goes the narrative, and actual care is not what we’re tracking here.

The rumors of Obamacare’s death are greatly exaggerated, it seems to me. When Sebelius is out, the HHS mandate is gone, and web site security becomes a priority, I might take a different view. Until then, regardless of controversies, Obamacare is entrenched.

In which I do my part to help President Obama spread the word about his “health care” plan

Just so we’re clear:

“We’re not going back,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re not repealing it as long as I’m president. I want everybody to be clear about that. We will make it work for all Americans.”

“It,” of course, is the President’s health care plan. I will refer to it here as Obamacare, despite the re-branding that is part of the President’s new-and-improved effort to promote it. The quote above was from a speech yesterday kicking off a series of appearances, a road show, to convince people that the fouled-up web site for signups is being de-fouled even as he speaks.

And the HHS mandate? That term hasn’t passed Mr. Obama’s lips lately, if ever. In case you’re wondering if he stands behind it, defends it, and thinks it’s an integral part of the plan, check out a line that appeared in yesterday’s speech and has already been used by the President’s surrogates:

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, preventive care like mammograms and birth control are free through your employers.

The President would have us believe that a $500 mammogram and a $10 birth control prescription are identical as “preventive care,” presumably because he thinks pregnancy and cancer amount to the same thing. “Mammogramsandbirthcontrol” has become one word in the White House lexicon, occasionally varied with “cancerscreeningsandbirthcontrol.” It’s all the same, says the traveling salesman.

“I’m going to need some help in spreading the world. I need you to spread the word about the law …Tell your friends. Tell your family.”

Glad to oblige.

First, I refuse to take health advice from any individual or any bureaucracy that cannot distinguish between a mammogram and birth control pills. The medical professionals who colluded in the development of Obamacare policy should be ashamed of themselves for calling fertility suppression “preventive” care.

Second, the President is once again not being straight with his audience – either the adoring fans he had at yesterday’s speech, or the American public he likes to address on television – about the fact that he is determined to roll the First Amendment flat, using Obamacare as the steamroller. The HHS mandate to force participation in a program providing “free” birth control is a direct denial of the religious freedom rights of Americans who dissent from the Administration’s view that there is no moral aspect to birth control and abortion. Catholics who accept Catholic teaching (and what a world, in which I have to include that modifier) are not the only people affected. Evangelical Protestants, among others, have gone to court over this.

Third, looking at the lawsuits challenging the mandate, two have arrived at the Supreme Court. In the case involving Hobby Lobby, the plaintiffs say they only object to a few of the birth control methods defined as “preventive” under the President’s law, namely the ones that actually induce early abortions rather than prevent fertilization. The President isn’t commenting on the very real possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will declare that abortive agents are the same as contraceptives. We have already seen from the list of “preventive” services under the health care law that biology has been put at the service of politics. No one familiar with twentieth century history should be able to contemplate that without recoiling.

So there are three things the President won’t tell you: “preventive” is a misnomer, the First Amendment is at stake, and science and politics are in bed together.

What would I do instead, you ask? Repeal the mandate. We can debate ways and means and web sites once the First Amendment is restored to its proper place. But first, simply repeal the mandate.

I wrote last February (“Memo to the President: Mandate 2.0 is still a failure”) about how the mandate was not being fixed by the Administration despite a few tweaks. Then, as now, the President was seeking public comment. I am nothing if not responsive to such appeals. Much of what I wrote then still holds today.

You cited advisors at the “Institute of Medicine” who concluded that it is much cheaper for women to be chemically altered than to have babies. Sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs made it into the Mandate as well. No corresponding concern for the cost savings attendant upon male contraception and sterilization made it into your guidelines for “preventive” services.

…Your contempt for my religion still permeates your health care plan. It is a matter of deep religious belief for me that fertility is a gift, to be regulated by means consistent with human dignity, and at no point considered to be a public health problem. And if you call contraception “preventive,” then you are calling fertility a problem.

…Women aren’t broken and they don’t need fixing. If only you hadn’t called contraception for women a “preventive” service, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. How ironic that an Administration that has claimed “being a woman shouldn’t be a pre-existing condition” has codified precisely the opposite.

[The Administration issued modified regulations to determine which religious institutions could get a waiver from the mandate.] … Instead of one executive agency (HHS) deciding what’s religious, you are turning the matter over to another executive agency, the IRS, that has been making that determination for years. The new regs also exempt non-profit religious organizations that meet four criteria, or jump through four hoops, to the satisfaction of whatever agency is going to implement this whole policy. Seldom do the American people have cause to be glad the IRS is going to define religion, but at least by bringing the tax people into it, you are making an effort at consistency. [I need to take back that last sentence. When I wrote it last February, I hadn’t heard of Lois Lerner.]

But what about individuals? What about groups that do not hold themselves out to be “religious” but are nonetheless animated by a respect for life that makes the Mandate abhorrent to them? What about a business owner – someone who owns a hobby store, as an example – who has religious objections to providing contraception and abortion-inducing drugs by way of employee health insurance?… Individuals have religious liberty AND conscience protection under our Constitution, and those protections are not forfeited when individuals form groups or run businesses.

Like the man said, I need you to spread the word about the law. Tell your friends.


Report from Maine: Portland City Council votes to “zone out” prolifers

According to the Twitter feed of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (@ppnne), the Portland City Council voted unanimously this evening to impose what PP calls a “patient safety zone” outside abortion facilities.

Also known as buffer zones, such ordinances typically impose a perimeter around abortion facilities to keep peaceful pro-life prayer witnesses at a distance.

The sketchy report provided by the tweets indicates that abortion advocates were well-represented at the meeting, which included public testimony. The Council meeting was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.; testimony reportedly ended shortly after 10; the Council vote was concluded by 10:25.

The Councilors added an “emergency” provision that makes the ordinance effective immediately.

The United States Supreme Court will rule within the next few months on the constitutionality of Massachusetts’s buffer zone law. The Concord, New Hampshire city council recently took a wait-and-see attitude to a petition for a zone around “reproductive health facilities” in that city.

Supreme Court to consider First Amendment rights of pro-life demonstrators

From www.supremecourt.gov
From supremecourt.gov

The U.S. Supreme Court is back in session, and among the cases it will decide by next summer is one from Massachusetts challenging that state’s 35-foot no-protest zone around abortion facilities [McCullen v. Coakley]. The plaintiffs are seven pro-lifers who regularly do sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.

The pending case was a factor in the decision by the Concord, NH City Council not to follow up on a petition to impose a 35-foot zone around the Feminist Health Center. When that petition was in the news, I went to Concord to measure what a 35-foot zone would look like there (see Thirty-Five Feet in Theory and Practice). I still wonder if the Concord Chamber of Commerce realizes that a 35-foot “buffer” would put pro-lifers on its doorstep instead of the FHC’s. If the Supreme Court upholds the Massachusetts law, you can expect to see a buffer zone imposed by the city, if not by the state.

The challenged law applies to “reproductive health facilities” excluding hospitals. Violators are subject to fines and jail time, becoming more severe with repeat offenses. Mark L. Rienzi, attorney for the plaintiffs, told Boston.com, “The same rules have to apply to all speakers. The government cannot put peaceful pro-life speakers in jail, but give Planned Parenthood free rein on the same sidewalk.” It seems that employees of the abortion providers, who are not subject to the law, have been known to stand in front of the facilities and interact with clients in a manner to drown out the pro-lifers 35 feet away.

I saw a tweet the other day from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, calling on supporters to show up in Portland to promote a “patient safety zone” there. That’s yet another euphemism for “First-Amendment-free zone.”

The Court last addressed no-protest zones in 2000 in the Hill v. Colorado case, when a 6-3 vote upheld a Colorado law establishing an 8-foot buffer.  Five of those Justices are still on the Court, two of whom were in the Hill majority.

Late-term abortion case on appeal

From Americans United for Life comes this news that Arizona officials are appealing a lower court decision striking down the state’s law limiting abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy. According to AUL,  “Arizona’s defense relies directly on the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the federal partial birth abortion ban act. In that case, the Supreme Court expressed concern with late-term abortions and their impact on the unborn child and women’s health.”