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.

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.

Senate Committee to hear life-issue bills March 30

The New Hampshire Senate Judiciary committee will hold hearings on Tuesday, March 30 on two life-issue bills, HB 233 and HB 625.

The hearing on HB 233, to protect infants who survive attempted abortion, will be at 1 p.m. A hearing on HB 625, to limit late-term abortions, will follow at 1:30. Hearings are still being held remotely, via Zoom videoconference. Members of the public can register online in advance to testify . The same sign-in process is used to register support or opposition without providing testimony.

I described the bills and their course through the House in “House passes two life-issue bills, overturning committee reports.

Members of the public may view the Senate Judiciary hearing using the following links:

  1. Link to Zoom Webinar: https://www.zoom.us/j/91687899729
  2. To listen via telephone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
    1-301-715-8592, or 1-312-626-6799 or 1-929-205-6099, or 1-253-215-8782, or 1-346-248-7799, or 1-669-900-6833
  3. Or iPhone one-tap: US: +13017158592,,91687899729# or +13126266799,, 91687899729#
  4. Webinar ID: 916 8789 9729

House passes two life-issue bills, overturning committee reports

In all the years I’ve been an advocate for life-issue legislation, I’ve seen very few days when the New Hampshire House has produced two victories – but here we are.

Despite the efforts of the Judiciary Committee, the House on February 24 passed HB 625, to restrict abortions after 24 weeks’ gestation, on a 191-160 roll call vote. (I’ll add a link to the roll call once it’s posted on the General Court website.) Later, after a Democratic effort to deny a quorum, the House passed HB 233, to protect infants surviving attempted abortion. That vote was 181-49, on a division vote.

That born-alive vote has some stories behind it.

The session was not open to the general public except via livestream. What follows is drawn from reports by credentialed media, my communication with House members, and relevant social media posts.

Life-issue bills, not “abortion bills”

First, let’s clarify what was and wasn’t at stake in each bill.

HB 625 is clearly about changing New Hampshire’s abortion-until-birth policy. It’s accurate to call that one an abortion bill. That’s “bill,” singular.

HB 233 protects children who are already born and who happen to have survived attempted abortion. It refers to human beings already born. It does not affect, regulate, or restrict abortion. It is false to claim otherwise. Calling it an abortion bill is an effort to divert attention away from its actual intention: provide enforceable protection for vulnerable infants.

Which one caused more fuss in the House? Not the abortion bill.

A note on party lines

I’m an independent voter, or as the Secretary of State would have it, “undeclared.” I carry no brief for either major party. That said, these life-issue victories on the House floor came with Republicans in the majority.

As for the other party, journalists Kevin Landrigan of the Union Leader and Adam Sexton of WMUR reported on a Democratic walkout over the born-alive bill. I confirmed their reports with a legislator who was on the scene.

Born-alive bill: the walkout

More than eight hundred bills are coming up this year, and one party considered blockage of protection for vulnerable infants worth walking out over. The walkout over HB 233 was prompted not only by the subject but by timing.

The House has a two-day session this week, February 24 and 25. The House calendar for the session is divided into two parts, one for each day. HB 625 was in part one. HB 233, along with buffer zone repeal (HB 430), was in part two.

A House calendar’s “parts” aren’t carved in stone. Any bill can be special-ordered, meaning considered out of order, if a majority of House members agree. Usually, it’s a matter of convenience or housekeeping. Sometimes, however, a special order has teeth to it. So it was with HB 233.

Fresh from victory on the 24-week bill, Republican House Majority Leader Jason Osborne moved to special-order HB 233, meaning move it to the first day of the session. His motion passed, 180-159.

According to the recorded docket for the bill, Rep. Willis Griffith, a Democrat from Manchester, then moved to table the bill. That motion failed, 45-184.

So 339 representatives voted on the special-order motion, while only 229 voted on the tabling motion. The difference was due to a walkout of many of the Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton.

Doing the math

There was a method to the madness: the House needs a quorum – a certain number of representatives on duty – to do business, and if enough legislators walk out, there’s no quorum. The tactic only works if the walkout leader does the math right. The walkout over HB 233 flunked that test. A quorum remained, and business went on.

Reportedly, House Speaker Sherman Packard tried to prevent representatives from leaving. The setting of the session – a large indoor sports arena, set up to fit COVID precautions, with many exits – apparently made that impractical. Later, some of those who walked out tried to get back in, once they realized they hadn’t succeeded in shutting the House down. Packard then exercised his authority to keep them out.

Rep. Griffith kept trying to derail the bill. His motion to indefinitely postpone HB 233 failed, 43-188; his motion to send the bill back to committee failed, 40-186. Weary of delay, the House finally voted to limit debate.

The House rejected the Judiciary Committee’s “inexpedient to legislate” recommendation on a 46-186 roll call, then voted “Ought to Pass,” 181-49. The final vote was a division vote, which unlike a roll call does not reveal each representative’s name.

“Cruel” to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable care”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire calls HB 233 “cruel.” A Facebook post by one of my own reps – a Democrat, as it happens – mischaracterized the bill as one that forces people to do bad things “despite parents’ wishes.”

To review, HB 233 calls for “medically appropriate and reasonable care” for infants who survive abortion. No less, no more.

I’m pretty sure my Dem representative didn’t bother to read the bill, relying instead on the ridiculous committee majority report. Otherwise, she must really believe that protection for born-alive infants is a bad thing.

I prefer my legislators to have a more expansive view of human rights.

Walkout fallout

I write this after Day One of the session, with Day Two yet to come. The bruises raised today are unlikely to have healed by 9 a.m. when the House reconvenes.

(…bruises raised by the prospect of protecting infants, no less.)

The buffer zone bill is on Day Two’s agenda. That’s a First Amendment bill. Fearless forecast #1: it will be mischaracterized by its opponents as a matter of reproductive rights.

Fearless forecast #2: no walkouts by either side. Today’s attempt was simply embarrassing.

To the Senate

HB 625 could have been sent to a second House committee (Criminal Justice and Public Safety) for further consideration, but committee chairman Daryl Abbas waived that referral. HB 625 and HB 233 are both on the way to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Edited to add name of Senate committee.

Header photo by Cottonbro/Pexels.