NH House passes 2nd fetal homicide bill; back to Senate

The New Hampshire House on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 40, the fetal homicide bill introduced by Senator Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead). The House voted to amend the measure to match the language of HB 560, Griffin’s Law, introduced by Rep. Leon Rideout (R-Lancaster). With today’s amendment, both bills would make a fetal homicide charge possible against anyone causing the death of a preborn child against the mother’s will more than eight weeks into pregnancy.

House committees have heard testimony this year from two families who are fighting for the legislation. In his floor speech today on SB 40, Rep. Rideout reminded his colleagues that the New Hampshire Supreme Court six years ago encouraged legislators to revisit the state’s homicide laws as they pertain to a fetus, and he added that thirty-eight other states have already dropped the circa-15th-century “born-alive rule” in favor of fetal homicide statutes.

 Rep. Rideout later issued a statement via the House Republican Majority Caucus: “Bills such as this one have been on the books for years in other states across the nation beginning the early 1970’s in California. Our laws are long outdated in protecting unborn children, and this bill brings us into the 21st century for protecting all of our citizens. The faulty claims from the left have zero foundation in truth. keeping our laws antiquated and violating the 14th amendment of equal protection for all people is unacceptable With all the new technology we have developed during the past 30 years to understand the life cycle of a preborn child, it’s about time we started protecting them and providing justice for the families of New Hampshire’s most innocent victims.”


Status of the two bills: The Senate has them both. SB 40 must go back to the full Senate for concurrence with the House amendment. HB 560 remains for now in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Action is likely soon, but has not yet been scheduled.

In search of a supermajority: Governor Hassan has been quiet about this year’s fetal homicide bills. If she were to veto the legislation, a two-thirds vote in both chambers would be required to override. Support has not been at that level thus far in 2015.

How the Senate looks: The original version of SB 40, which would have gone into effect at viability (and which contained an odd definition of the term), passed on a 13-11 vote. Republican Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton) joined all Senate Democrats in opposing the bill. Concurrence with the House amendment would require a simple majority.

The numbers in the House: Today’s vote on SB 40 (ought to pass as amended) was 193-159, or 54.8%-45.2%. That compares to 208-155 for HB 560 in the same House two months ago. A few observations:

  • Eleven representatives supported HB 560 but changed their minds on SB 40 as amended today. Five are Democrats: Raymond Gagnon (Sullivan 5), Christopher Herbert (Hillsborough 43), Dick Patten (Merrimack 17), Timothy Smith (Hillsborough 17), and Benjamin Tilton (Cheshire 12). Six are Republicans: Stephen Darrow (Grafton 17), Susan Emerson (Cheshire 11), James Grenier (Sullivan 7), Douglas Long (Merrimack 4), Richard Marple (Merrimack 24), and Gregory Smith (Hillsborough 37).
  • On the other hand, three reps supported SB 40 as amended today after voting against HB 560: Republican Edmond Gionet (Grafton 5), Democrat Audrey Stevens (Strafford 7), and Democrat Deborah Wheeler (Merrimack 3).
  • In general, Republicans supported the bill and Democrats opposed it, as has been the case with every fetal homicide bill over the past twenty years in New Hampshire. Five Democrats voted for SB 40 today: Daniel Hansberry (Hills 35; did not vote on 560); Jean Jeudy (Hills 10; did not vote on 560), Audrey Stevens (see above), Robert Theberge (Coos 3; supports both bills), and Deborah Wheeler (see above). Nineteen Republicans opposed the bill, as did the House’s lone independent (David Luneau, Merrimack 10).
  • Today’s vote tally included 45 absences, most of them excused.

Senate fetal homicide bill: notes on a hearing

Today, the New Hampshire Senate’s version of a fetal homicide bill, SB 40, had its hearing at the House Criminal Justice committee. I was only able to stay for the first half-hour, which was enough for me to hear Rep. Geoffrey Hirsch ask sponsor Regina Birdsell, “Isn’t this supported by groups that want to establish personhood?”

The gentleman from Bradford is apparently worried that fetal homicide legislation is a backdoor way to get personhood into the books. Wait – haven’t we been there before? Oh, yes – same committee, four weeks ago, minority worrying about Roe. Someone is actually worried that those sneaky pro-lifers are going to take a bill that refers to wanted pregnancies terminated by the bad actions of a third party (not the mother, whose decisions are absolutely respected under fetal homicide laws), and pervert it into a bill to prosecute women who choose to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.

Senator Birdsell, an even-tempered woman not given to sharp retorts, answered that fetal homicide is not a pro-life/pro-choice issue. She urged the representative that instead of being concerned about groups, he should listen to Deana Crucitti.

She could have said, “C’mon, people – FOCUS!” She has far too much respect for her colleagues and for the institutions of House and Senate to resort to that. It was left to me to mutter the words under my breath – quietly enough, I hope.


 

With two fetal homicide bills under consideration, there will have to be reconciliation at some point. Rep. Leon Rideout, sponsor of Griffin’s Law (HB 560) in the House, testified in favor of SB 40 today. “Knowing Senator Birdsell, I think we can work together and make a very good bill.” SB 40 would go into effect at viability, while HB 560 would be effective eight weeks into pregnancy. Rideout doesn’t like the viability language, but in reply to a question from a committee member, he said he doesn’t think viability “guts” a fetal homicide bill. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

To the suggestion that fetal homicide laws undermine abortion rights, Rideout had a blunt reply. “Calling this pro-life versus pro-choice is BS.” Yes, he abbreviated it. He observed decorum and he made his point.


The Crucitti family was present, and I’m sorry I missed their testimony. I heard Deana Crucitti testify on SB 40 at its Senate hearing a few weeks back, and her story is searing.

Rideout brought three photos of Griffin, his grandson born prematurely but unable to survive for long due to injuries sustained in utero when the car his mother was driving was struck by another vehicle. He put those framed photos on the table in front of him as he testified. “This is the context of what we are talking about today.”

When he returned to his seat, Deana Crucitti quietly asked to see the photos. She looked at them one by one, shook her head gently, and embraced Rep. Rideout as she returned the pictures.


 

An ugly story out of Colorado is in the news: a pregnant woman was assaulted and overpowered by someone who proceeded to cut the preborn child out of the woman’s body. Colorado has no fetal homicide law. There can be no criminal charge in the child’s death, although the assailant will certainly face charges in the assault on the woman.

Yes, that came up in today’s hearing. It will no doubt be mentioned again later this week when Rep. Rideout’s bill has another hearing.


Griffin’s Law gets House OK, 208-155

The New Hampshire House has approved House Bill 560, also known as fetal homicide or Griffin’s Law, on a 208-155 vote. An amendment that would have gutted the bill was rejected 168-190. The bill now goes to the Senate.


A few things to keep in mind:

  • The Senate has its own version of fetal homicide legislation, SB 40, which is scheduled for a Senate vote tomorrow morning. That is a separate measure, unaffected by today’s vote.
  • The link to today’s House vote is hereSome of the “not votings” were actually excused absences. The record should be updated in the coming days.
  • The next hurdle for Griffin’s Law is a Senate hearing, yet to be scheduled.
  • In their floor speeches today, House opponents of fetal homicide legislation backed away from last year’s claim that such bills would inhibit assisted reproductive technologies. Instead, their main points were (a) that the bill gives a fetus “rights” and thus diminishes the rights of the mother, and (b) that the bill puts in jeopardy the health of a pregnant woman who becomes unable to speak for herself or have a designated proxy speak for her.
  • …which reminds me that 38 states have some form of fetal homicide legislation. In all those states, pregnant women’s rights and health are intact, and Roe v. Wade is in full effect. Fetal homicide legislation does not interfere with women’s rights.
  • Opponents of the measure will keep fighting it. Most of the fighting will go on out of the public eye, one private conversation at a time. If you haven’t spoken to your senator yet, what are you waiting for?

Representative Leon Rideout, chief sponsor of HB 560 and grandfather of Griffin, posted this as his response to the vote:

Rep. Rideout re-introduces Griffin’s Law

Robin Knippers, with shirt; Virginia Cloutier in rear; Cora Rideout & Jennifer Caron at left
Robin Knippers, with shirt; Virginia Cloutier in rear, at the 2014 Griffin’s Law vote. Both women returned last week to support the 2015 bill.

Rep. Leon Rideout’s Facebook page was recently full of pictures of a beautiful newborn. He and his wife are proud grandparents once again. With the blessed event coming only a few days before the House hearing on this year’s Griffin’s Law, a fetal homicide bill, I was sure that the extended family would be too happily distracted to come to Concord. That would have been understandable.

I was wrong. When the Criminal Justice committee called the hearing to order on HB 560, Rep. Rideout and his wife Cora were there. Their daughter Ashlyn, Griffin’s mother, was there with Daniel, Griffin’s father. In the midst of celebrating the birth of one grandchild, the Rideouts still wanted to honor the memory of another.


A car crash left Griffin’s pregnant mother badly injured; Griffin was then delivered prematurely and died from injuries sustained in the wreck. No charge against the offending driver was possible regarding Griffin’s death. It’s sickening how many families have sustained such losses, only to discover that the babies aren’t considered victims under New Hampshire law.

Once again, as he did last year, Rep. Rideout asked the committee to move New Hampshire in line with the more than three dozen other states with fetal homicide laws. He modified the language of this year’s bill to address the concerns of those who thought the bill would interfere with assisted reproduction or (God forbid) abortion. Those concerns were unfounded in the first place, since the bill would not have applied to any pregnancy termination requested by the mother. Nevertheless, the many co-sponsors of this year’s bill were willing to make accommodations to put to rest the nonsense that this bill is about abortion or about interfering with infertility treatments.


Rep. Kathy Souza was emphatic about that when a committee member bluntly asked how the bill would affect abortion. She had to say it twice to him: “This is not about abortion in any way. This is for a child that is wanted and is taken by the act of another. Fetal homicide [legislation] is a matter of justice.”

Rep. Rideout picked up that theme. “The intent is so mothers and families of these unborn children can receive justice.” He reminded the committee members that the state Supreme Court suggested in 2009 – six years ago now – that the legislature re-visit the homicide statutes to address the violent deaths of wanted preborn children caused by bad actions of a third party. He cited not only his own family’s loss, but also the 2006 death of Dominick Emmons, in whose memory fetal homicide legislation was introduced in 2012.

Rideout noted that the principle currently used to determine if a child like Griffin is a crime victim is something called the born-alive rule. “The born-alive rule is rooted in the 1400s,” added Rideout. “It’s incomprehensible that the state of New Hampshire, with all the advances in society and within the medical field, is still relying on a rule from the 1400s. While New Hampshire’s homicide laws are stuck in the 1400s … 38 other states have come to the realization they needed to update their statutes. Some of these states have had fetal homicide laws since 1970, so we’re not blazing new ground here.”

The ACLU was there to call the bill “unnecessary” and to warn darkly of unintended consequences. A representative of NARAL-NH, who apparently hadn’t read the bill before she testified, also opposed the bill. She clung stubbornly to the notion that a law to prosecute reckless drivers and abusive partners was really an underhanded scheme to make abortion illegal.

A physician who had arrived at the hearing with the same misapprehensions, and who intended to testify against the bill, listened carefully to Reps. Souza and Rideout. He then had the integrity and intellectual honesty to surprise the committee when he was called. Dr. Barry Smith told the assembled representatives that he had thought the bill would interfere with abortion rights, but after hearing from the sponsors, he was satisfied that Griffin’s Law is not an abortion bill, and he therefore he was withdrawing his opposition to it.

I’ve attended hearings for more than twenty years, and never before have I heard a speaker on a bill announce a same-day change of heart.

The ACLU representative said that the group would not be opposed to “enhanced penalties” for crimes against a woman resulting in the death of her preborn child. That was the tactic used by last year’s opponents of Griffin’s Law, who worked to amend the fetal homicide bill into a be-nice-to-pregnant-ladies bill. It was a poison pill that assured the bill’s failure. Rep. Rideout crisply dismissed the ACLU suggestion. “The ACLU is trying to muddy the waters, sowing fear. They’re trying to deflect and confuse people.”

Another fetal homicide bill will be heard in the Senate in a few days. The Senate bill would come into play much later in pregnancy. Rep. Rideout was not distracted by that as he made the case for his own bill, for Griffin.

“Danny and Ashlyn were and continue to be a pillar of strength during this ordeal,” he continued. “Faced with an unspeakable loss and daily challenges, they forged ahead looking at the blessings in life, the fact that Ashlyn survived, and Grady, my 3-year-old grandson, only suffered minor injuries. But the one thing they and the rest of the family – Griffin’s cousins, parents, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents – cannot get is justice for Griffin’s death and the hole that is left in the family’s daily life.”

He reminded the committee that his grandson would not have been the only one affected had a New Hampshire fetal homicide bill been in place already. He read aloud a list of the names of children whose deaths counted for nothing under current law. A lot of families are reflected in those names.

The opponents of Griffin’s Law were greatly outnumbered by supporters at the recent hearing. Several co-sponsors spoke, as did representatives of advocacy groups who know a fetal homicide law is overdue. None spoke as simply and directly as Virginia Cloutier. Not a legislator, not a lobbyist, she made her point in just a few words: “I don’t know if I’ll ever live long enough to understand why New Hampshire doesn’t have a fetal homicide law.”

 

 

Activists of the year, and other 2014 highlights

It’s my good fortune as a pro-life blogger to meet amazing and inspirational people in the course of my travels throughout New Hampshire. With gratitude, I recognize a few of them here, along with some notable 2014 happenings.

Activists of the year: the “buffer zone” challengers

Honorable mention: the family of Griffin Donald Kenison

Honorable mention: NH’s 40 Days for Life teams

The buffer zone challengers

The ill-advised passage of a law to nullify the First Amendment within “up to 25 feet” of New Hampshire abortion facilities – with the precise perimeter to be left up to the discretion of abortion providers – forced pro-life citizens to turn to the courts for relief. Seven people, represented by pro-life and pro-First-Amendment attorneys, are taking up the challenge.

Michael Tierney (facebook.com photo)
Michael Tierney (facebook.com photo)

For the third year in a row, Manchester attorney Michael Tierney has made his way onto my end-of-the-year highlight reel. This year, he is representing the seven plaintiffs in Reddy v. Foster, seeking to have the “buffer zone” law overturned. Tierney, along with attorneys Michael DePrimo and Mark Rienzi, is working with Alliance Defending Freedom to vindicate the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities.

Each plaintiff is exceptional, quite independent of this court case. All other gifts and callings to one side, though, they are committed to the dignity of every pregnant woman and preborn child. They have courage to live out that message in prayer on the abortion facilities’ sidewalks. They have the guts to challenge the state government, which includes a governor, attorney general, fourteen senators and 162 House members who ought to be ashamed of themselves. The plaintiffs are Sister Mary Rose Reddy, Sue Clifton, Jennifer Robidoux, Joan Espinola, Terry Barnum, Jackie Pelletier, and Betty Buzzell.

A lie was repeated over and over during testimony in support of the now-challenged law: any pro-life presence outside an abortion facility is in itself an act of violence, no different in nature than a physical assault on abortion-minded women and abortion workers. Nothing short of a buffer zone law could protect “safety and balance,” as sponsor Sen. Donna Soucy calmly intoned at each hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that claim when in June it threw out the Massachusetts law on which the New Hampshire law was based, saying that when less-restrictive laws have not yet been enforced outside abortion facilities (laws like disorderly conduct, for example), nullification of the First Amendment cannot be tolerated. Governor Maggie Hassan signed New Hampshire’s law after the Supreme Court decision, underscoring the radical pro-abortion extremism that animated the law’s supporters.

The seven challengers to the law are quietly putting extremists on notice: peaceful pro-life witness is here to stay.

The Kenison and Rideout families

The efforts by the family of little Griffin Kenison to get fetal homicide legislation enacted were nothing short of awesome.

Rep. Leon Rideout (facebook.com/rideout4rep)
Rep. Leon Rideout (facebook.com/rideout4rep)

When a woman loses a wanted pregnancy because of the actions of a negligent or impaired driver, or an abusive partner, or any other kind of assault, must the preborn child’s assailant answer to the community via criminal law? More than three dozen states say yes, in the form of fetal homicide laws. Those laws, the provisions of which vary somewhat from state to state, call for charges not only for injury of death to the woman, but for the death of her preborn child as well.

New Hampshire is not one of those states. Several times in the past twenty years, fetal homicide legislation has been introduced in Concord. It came close to passage in 2012, falling to a veto by then-Governor John Lynch. This year, another bill was introduced. This time, it was personal: Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster called his bill “Griffin’s Law” in honor of his grandson. Rideout’s daughter Ashlyn was 7½ months pregnant when an automobile collision forced her child’s premature delivery. The child, Griffin, could not survive his injuries sustained in the collision. The driver responsible for the collision faced no charge in the child’s death.

Griffin’s extended family trooped down to Concord from New Hampshire’s North Country for hearings and floor votes. They wore t-shirts and distributed ribbons in Griffin’s honor. Griffin’s parents, Ashlyn Rideout and Daniel Kenison, sat quietly with Ashlyn’s mother Cora and listened as Rep. Rideout testified. Grandmother Shirley Kenison Ward delivered powerful, memorable testimony. I don’t have all the names of the family members who were there, but I honor each one of those people who came to remember Griffin. They came from a distance, taking time off work, speaking volumes with their very presence.

Those voices fell on too many ears attuned to the testimony of abortion advocates. This is not an abortion bill. It refers only to wanted pregnancies. One might think that being pro-choice would include respecting a woman’s choice to carry a child to term. Not really, apparently. Abortion advocates perceive threats to Roe v. Wade where none exist – extremism warps one’s view – and they fought Griffin’s Law, saying that recognizing Griffin as a child would somehow compromise abortion rights. The legislative class of 2012 was amenable to that nonsense.

The legislators elected in 2014 have a chance to rectify things. Griffin’s Law is back for 2015, once again sponsored by Rep. Rideout. The makeup of the legislature has changed. Governor Hassan just might find this one on her desk. It’ll be foolish to bet against a fetal homicide law if the Kenisons and Rideouts persist in what grandmother Shirley called “a crusade.”

The 40 Days for Life teams

40DFL volunteers in Greenland, NH
40DFL volunteers in Greenland, NH

Dianne Braley in Greenland and Jennifer Robidoux in Manchester led 40 Days for Life campaigns this year. There’s no question in my mind that the push for the buffer zone law had a chilling effect on pro-life witness in our state. These women went ahead in faith anyway, each bringing together a supportive leadership team to see the campaigns through. (Yes, that’s the same Jennifer Robidoux who’s a plaintiff in the buffer zone suit.)

In a political atmosphere of pronounced hostility to peaceful pro-life witness, Dianne and Jen simply went about their business of recruiting people to stand outside Planned Parenthood or the Lovering abortion facility to pray for an hour at a time. The threefold mission of 40DFL is prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil, and community outreach, and New Hampshire’s teams did their best to carry those out in a year when abortion advocates came close to banning legal, peaceful, non-obstructive demonstration where abortions are done. In the face of this atmosphere and the excessive caution it provoked in some circles, Dianne and Jen remained true to 40DFL’s mission and commitment. Their teams deserve just as much credit.

Most unexpected pro-life victory

From www.supremecourt.gov
From www.supremecourt.gov

Who expects anything constructive from the U.S. Supreme Court nowadays? One always hopes, of course – but expectation, not so much.

Imagine my surprise when not one but two major decisions came down on the pro-life side. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court rejected Massachusetts’ buffer zone law on a narrow basis: since existing laws hadn’t yet been used against pro-life witnesses, it was inappropriate to pass a new law with the drastic effect of squelching First Amendment rights. Massachusetts has since passed a new buffer zone law, in line with the Court’s warning.

And then there’s the Hobby Lobby decision. The McCullen decision was received fairly quietly by abortion advocates, mostly because they were still screaming over Hobby Lobby. It’s official: owners of a privately-held company who have religious objections to certain forms of “contraception” – in this case, abortion-triggering drugs and devices – may not be compelled to help pay for or provide those devices to employees. It was an extremely narrow ruling, but it upheld the religious liberty of the owners of Hobby Lobby.Take that, Obamacare.

Abortion advocates went into overdrive, and in the process they abandoned any pretense of believing that abortion is different from birth control (which has implications for future legislation and litigation on abortion funding). “#notmybossbusiness” became the hashtag of the day, as extremists as usual seized the PR advantage over defenders of religious liberty. They claimed that any boss who refuses to violate her conscience by providing employee insurance coverage for abortifacients is actually making medical decisions for the employee. The abortion advocates are concerned about the other Obamacare lawsuits in the pipeline from other entities, including religious institutions and publicly-traded companies.

Conscience rights? Still under assault.

Best decision by a candidate

Karen Testerman: "Life is not an issue; it's a fundamental principle. There should be no question about it."
Karen Testerman at Women for Bob Smith rally: “Life is not an issue; it’s a fundamental principle. There should be no question about it.”

Karen Testerman wanted to be the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate. She started early, campaigned hard within the conservative base, and brought her message to GOP committees statewide. Former Senator Bob Smith was in the race as well, with eighteen years of Senate seniority in his back pocket and a long record of pro-life votes in Washington. In an act both savvy and gracious – two things that often go by the boards in campaign season – Karen decided to bow out in favor of Sen. Smith. She didn’t just drop out of the race and go home. She declared her support for Smith very publicly, standing with him in the State House. She campaigned as tirelessly for him as she had for herself. She was determined not to split the pro-life vote.

We all know the epilogue: Scott Brown entered the race, bolstered by legacy Republicans. The self-proclaimed pro-choicer Brown managed a hair under 50% in the nine-way GOP primary. Sen. Smith earned 23%, far more than most pundits expected. Brown went on to lose to incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. But this isn’t about “worst decisions by a candidate,” so let’s move on.

Most encouraging election result

The New Hampshire House lost a lot of its abortion supporters and assisted-suicide advocates in November. That’s a net win for the people of New Hampshire, even with newly-elected reps who are keeping their life-issue inclinations to themselves for now.

NH pro-life event & speaker of the year

Julia Holcomb, Silent No More
Julia Holcomb, Silent No More

A most subjective category, to be sure – but can anyone seriously challenge Julia Holcomb of Silent No More as the most compelling speaker at any New Hampshire event this year? New Hampshire Right to Life’s annual banquet was the venue for an exceptional evening. Holcomb’s story of being coerced into a late-term saline abortion at age 17 is unforgettable. As I wrote at the time, “It’s tough to take phrases like ‘choice’ and ‘reproductive justice’ seriously after hearing from Julia Holcomb. Slogans fade away in the face of a woman speaking with such courage and honesty.”

Honorable mention: The rally for life organized by Women for Bob Smith brought together candidates for local, state and federal offices, some of whom had little to no name recognition among pro-life voters until they spoke that day on the State House plaza. Andrew Hemingway, GOP primary candidate for governor, summed it up in his remarks about the right to life: “Is there any other greater cause? No. This is it. The pinnacle. You must take the energy from this day and move this cause forward.” Move the cause forward. With encouragement and inspiration like this, why not?