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.

Post-veto, a clarifying moment on Twitter

Yes, Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the odious abortion insurance mandate. I’ve thanked him. I hope readers will do likewise.

Nothing in the veto changes his attitude toward abortion. The veto indicated respect for those who disagree with him, just as it indicated concern that the mandate would have cost the state money. That’s as far as it goes.

Three people came together in a Twitter exchange a few hours after the veto to clear this up for pro-life voters.

First, this from Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord), who hopes to get the Democratic nomination for Governor this fall. He pitched his customary reproductive-rights spiel.

Mere minutes later came this reply from a gentleman working for the Governor’s re-election, formerly on the Governor’s staff. He helpfully pointed out that Planned Parenthood has not suffered under the Governor’s leadership, despite the fact that he has disappointed them twice in five years (more about that here, under “an interesting anniversary”).

A state representative summed it up well in her reply to Mr. Vihstadt. She does not trash the Governor, nor has she ever done so in my hearing. She is a thoughtful individual. But she does have a habit of calling things as she sees ’em.

Ouch. But yes.

Gratitude for the veto is a good thing. It’s downright essential, in my book. Acknowledgment of the conscience rights of Granite Staters is always refreshing to see.

Maybe that’ll extend to keeping tax dollars away from abortion providers someday.

Perhaps that’s a conversation to be had on the campaign trail.

Veto! Sununu says no to abortion insurance mandate

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has vetoed a measure to create an abortion-insurance mandate for certain health insurance policies. In his veto message on HB 685, he cited conscience concerns and a potential loss of federal funds if the bill were to become law.

“This bill would risk the States federal healthcare funding in the middle of a pandemic, take away the freedom of choice for those employees and employers who object to being forced to partake in or provide abortion services, and expose the State to expensive litigation. Therefore, the costs and risks of this bill far outweigh its benefits.” (Full statement at this link.)

HB 685’s advocates, citing “parity,” treat abortion as health care. To them, conscience protections are “discriminatory attacks.” They seek to remove abortion-free options for anyone who chooses not to help provide abortions, including insurance providers, business owners who offer health insurance as a benefit to employees, and individuals paying insurance premiums.

HB 685 got to the Governor’s desk after a tortuous legislative process that included stripping an unrelated bill of its language in order to replace it with the abortion insurance mandate. The bill was passed in spite of a House rule barring nongermane amendments. There was no House public hearing on the bill in its amended form.

Overriding the veto would require a two-thirds vote in House and Senate. The House Clerk has announced that the House will have its “Veto Day” on September 16 at UNH’s Whittemore Center in Durham.

Earlier coverage of HB 685: Mandate bill created in rushed process, Clock is ticking on abortion insurance bill

To thank the Governor: (603) 271-2121 or governorsununu@nh.gov

Edited to correct date for House Veto Day.

After one-month delay, clock is ticking on abortion insurance bill

The abortion insurance mandate bill crafted by pro-abortion New Hampshire legislators is finally on Governor Sununu’s desk. HB 685 was passed and entered the enrollment process on June 30. Not until August 5 did the Senate finally sign off on the bill. Governor Sununu now has five business days to act on it.

The Governor’s office phone number is (603) 271-2121. Email is governorsununu@nh.gov. He could act on the bill as early as today.

Five-day countdown after one-month delay

HB 685 entered the enrollment process on June 30 after a rule-bending journey through House and Senate. Enrollment is normally an administrative procedure lasting a few days, involving getting signatures from House and Senate leaders. By delaying sign-off, those leaders can affect the timing of when a bill gets to the Governor.

In the case of HB 685, the Senate was the chokepoint. Senate President Donna Soucy finally did her job and sent the bill to the Governor on August 5. From there, Governor Chris Sununu has five business days to sign or veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature.

The last option – letting it become law without his signature – is no different from signing it outright.

The big lie: “reproductive health parity”

Abortion advocates have titled the mandate a “reproductive health parity” bill. That’s a backhanded acknowledgment of the fact that even among abortion-friendly legislators, the word “abortion” is radioactive.

Don’t be fooled. HB 685 is an abortion bill. It is founded on the false notion that abortion is health care, together with the false notion that “access” means forcing the community as a whole to help procure abortions.

In a press release tweeted out by Senate Democrats, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua) said that HB 685 is essential to “guaranteeing full reproductive health care and reducing barriers for women when making their constitutionally protected decisions.”

No word on whether Senator Rosenwald is interested in repealing the buffer zone law, which was passed in the thus-far-vain hope it would be a barrier for women making constitutionally protected decisions to demonstrate publicly and peacefully outside abortion facilities.

An interesting anniversary

Whether the Senate Democrats intended so or not, their statement on HB 685 comes on the fifth anniversary of then-Executive Councilor Sununu’s surprising vote to deny a state contract to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. In a joyous borderline-intemperate Facebook post that day, I wrote “Can I get a Hell Yeah for Chris Sununu? He courageously voted no on PP contracts, citing need for alternatives for women in his district.”

Why so shocking? Because he had voted to grant earlier PP contracts, and only a few months later, he reverted to supporting PP contracts again.

Coverage in this blog noted more about Sununu’s vote on August 5, 2015.

In the discussion preceding the vote, Sununu said “I’m pro-choice and I support Planned Parenthood, but in my district, women have no [other] choice.” He unsuccessfully urged Hassan and his fellow Councilors to “take a step back” and support a study of health care options in Sununu’s southeastern New Hampshire district. He said he got calls from constituents who wanted family planning services but not at Planned Parenthood. He also expressed concern about activities at other Planned Parenthood affiliates documented in the [Center for Medical Progress] videos [documenting PP commerce in fetal body parts], which were dismissed by Hassan, Van Ostern and Pappas (in identical language) as “heavily edited.” “I’ve watched that video cover to cover with no edits,” said Sununu. “I’m pro-choice, but that’s not the issue here.”

reported in Leaven for the Loaf, 8/5/15

Perhaps the better angels of his nature will prevail again in 2020.

Abortion Insurance Mandate On Its Way to Governor Sununu

The New Hampshire House voted today to concur with the Senate’s abortion insurance mandate. Following an administrative procedure known as enrollment, HB 685 will go to Governor Chris Sununu. He has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the measure.

The Governor’s office can be reached at (603) 271-2121. I’ll be asking for a veto of HB 685.

The House vote on concurrence was 196-132. A “Yea” supported advancing the insurance mandate, despite the fact that the House had held no hearing on the bill as amended.

As previously reported, HB 685 was amended by the Senate to remove its original language on a different topic, replacing it with an abortion insurance mandate. The House violated its own rules (#45-b, if anyone asks) by taking up the amended bill at all, never mind concurring with the Senate’s changes.

If HB 685 becomes law, you will be helping to subsidize abortion if you are an insurance provider covered by the bill, if you are a business owner who offers health insurance as a benefit to employees under a policy covered by this bill, and if you are an individual paying premiums for a policy covered by this bill.

Conscience rights were dismissed by the House and Senate majorities when they voted on HB 685 as amended. Will the Governor take the same approach?

Earlier posts on HB 685: Second Abortion Insurance Mandate Bill Created in Rushed Process, House to Vote on Abortion Insurance Mandate