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.

State budget conferees restore abortion funding restriction

House and Senate conferees working on the New Hampshire state budget for 2022-23 have agreed to include a restriction on abortion funding, according to news reports. The compromise language adds a 24-week limit on abortions.

The funding restriction, originally passed by the House, was later rejected by the Senate Finance Committee before being restored to HB 2 by the full Senate. It would apply to state general funds awarded though contracts with the department of health and human services.

The language does not prevent state funds from going to abortion providers for non-abortion services, such as family planning programs.

The 24-week abortion limit was added to HB 2 by the Senate after HB 625 was tabled.

Here’s the official summary of the proposed budget language as it currently stands: “[This budget} 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.”

The provisions are part of HB 2, the “trailer bill” that goes along with the principal budget bill, HB 1. It is not unusual for the trailer bill include measures that for one reason or another failed to pass as free-standing bills.

Budget negotiations continue this week in conference committee. House and Senate will meet on June 24 to vote on the resulting budget. Once approved by both chambers, the budget will go to Governor Chris Sununu.

Sununu has expressed support for the language restricting abortion funding and late-term abortions.

Life-issue bills: NH Senate to vote on committee recommendations this week

The New Hampshire Senate will meet Thursday, May 27 at 10 a.m. to consider Judiciary Committee recommendations on two life-issue bills.

HB 625, Fetal Life Protection Act

The Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 along party lines (GOP majority) to recommend Ought to Pass with Amendment on HB 625, concerning late-term abortions.

The committee – including Sen. William Gannon – did not recommend adding an exception for eugenic abortion. (See this blog’s earlier report on the bill.) Cornerstone Action, which favors HB 625, posted a report worth reading in full, outlining the committee’s actions and giving a call to action.

From the Cornerstone message: Contact your Senator now and ask him or her to support a floor amendment adopting—at minimum—the severability and ‘physician requirement’ sections of the Birdsell amendment. These changes are critical to protecting the bill [HB 625], both in court and against a possible veto.

HB 233, Born-Alive Infant Protection

A born-alive infant protection bill will not pass the year, with the Senate Judiciary Committee voting to re-refer HB 233.

Re-referral is the Senate’s version of what the House calls “retaining” a bill. The procedure keeps a bill in committee for the remainder of the calendar year, preventing a full-Senate vote until 2022.

The Senate’s May 27 session will be streamed online at http://sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00286/Harmony/en/View/Calendar/20210527/-1. This link will not be live until the session begins.

No Senate votes yet on 2021 life-issue bills

Since committee hearings on March 30, the New Hampshire Senate has not yet scheduled votes on bills regarding born-alive protections (HB 233) and a 24-week limit to abortion (HB 625).

GOP Senator calls restriction on eugenic abortion “a bridge too far”

HB 625 met resistance at the March 30 Senate Judiciary hearing from a Republican senator. Sen. William Gannon (R-Sandown) noted that the bill contains no exception for preborn children diagnosed with “severely fatal abnormalities.”

Following testimony in favor of HB 625 by one of its co-sponsors, Sen. Gannon challenged him. “I have a problem – it’s a bridge too far without it for me, sir. You don’t have any exception for severely fatal abnormalities which I think would be cruel to a mother and father in the situation.”

Video of the hearing is on YouTube, with Sen. Gannon’s question at time stamp 2:40:00.

[Update: Please see Sen. Gannon’s comment below, responding to this post.]

A reader has shared with me an email she received several weeks ago from Sen. Gannon regarding the bill, in which the senator stated that only ten GOP senators will accept the bill as passed by the House. In the email, he did not name the senators. The current membership of the Senate is 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

The bill contains an exception for medical emergencies that would threaten the life of the mother or would cause her “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

Diocese: don’t send message that “some lives are less worth living than others”

Robert Dunn, director of the office of public policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, sent out a call to action on April 20, urging supporters of HB 625 to contact their senators.

“To summarize [the Diocese’s] position: State law should not send the message that, based on certain characteristics, some lives are less worth living than others. All children have the right to life and to a recognition of their human dignity. If we want society to respect and value the child who is homeless, or the child at the border, or the child without access to health care, or the child with disabilities, then it is essential that society also respect and value the child in the womb as well. Please contact your Senator…to respectfully urge a vote to pass HB 625 without any amendments that would water down the bill.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Cornerstone: watch out for amendments

Cornerstone Action published a commentary on April 27 entitled “Protect the Late-Term Preborn: Don’t Let Amendments Sabotage HB 625.”

While favoring amendments from Sens. Regina Birdsell and Harold French – the texts of which were not part of Cornerstone’s post – the organization warned against other proposals, including an exception for eugenic abortions.

“If HB 625-FN is to pass and fulfill its moderate mission of protecting late-term preborn life in the state, it will need informed and educated support for the original bill and the proposed Birdsell and French amendments. Any other amendments could endanger the bill and its effectiveness.”

(While I am no longer a lobbyist, I formerly represented Cornerstone at the State House.

The next Senate calendar will be published this evening.