Time to kill the “buffer zone” law

“Safety and balance.” That has been the cry parroted by supporters of New Hampshire’s unenforced and unenforceable buffer zone law ever since its introduction and passage in 2014. Keeping people safe means keeping people silent: that’s some screwy balance. No wonder the law has never been used.

It’s time for the Sidewalk Free Speech Act, HB 430, which will have its hearing tomorrow, February 9, at 2 p.m. It will repeal the buffer zone law, if passed.

Four times, efforts to repeal that law have failed. It’s imperative to keep trying. It’s time to erase a blot on New Hampshire’s statutes by getting rid of the buffer zone law. See the end of this post for details on how you can let legislators know that.

HB 430 ought to pass with an overwhelming majority. Anyone who values the First Amendment will support it. Abortion will be unaffected when HB 430 passes, but First Amendment rights will be reaffirmed.

“Safety and balance”

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law allows abortion facility managers to decide the times and places members of the public may occupy public property within 25 feet of the facility. That’s a “buffer zone.” Municipal agencies may be consulted about a proposed zone, but have no say in whether a zone is actually set up.

Is there any wonder that no one has dared to set up a buffer zone so far? Just how hungry for litigation does someone have to be in order to support such a law? And yet legislators have continued to tolerate having the law on the books.

The sponsor of the buffer zone law, Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester, still in office), cited “safety and balance” repeatedly as she shepherded her bill onto then-Gov. Hassan’s desk in 2014. She spoke as though the advocates of safety were somehow in opposition to advocates of peaceful witness.

The buffer zone law makes no distinction between violent action and silent prayer. Neither the actions nor the intentions of a person outside an abortion facility figure into the buffer zone law. Only the opinion of a “reproductive health care facility” manager carries any weight.

Sen. Soucy was concerned about violence, as though people praying on the sidewalk weren’t just as concerned about it. She spoke of safety, even though there was zero documentation by law enforcement that any ordinances or state laws had been used against peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities.

Violence is abhorrent, inside and outside an abortion facility. The buffer zone law has done nothing, and can do nothing, to prevent it.

So if the buffer zone doesn’t prevent violence, what’s its purpose? It was written to squelch unpopular speech. The last time a law similar to New Hampshire’s got to the Supreme Court, the Court threw it out on its figurative ear.

Supreme Court says there must be alternatives

A Planned Parenthood of Northern New England lobbyist testified in 2014 that a buffer zone was necessary, as attested by 60 complaints made by patients at the Manchester facility.

Complaints made to police? No. Those 60 complaints were made to PP. None resulted in any law enforcement involvement. So were any laws or ordinances broken in the course of those 60 complaints? Apparently not. Either PP didn’t report any complaints to the police – which even now makes me wonder just how seriously they take patient safety – or PP knew that the “complaints” didn’t rise to the level of criminal activity such as harassment, trespassing, disorderly conduct, or breach of the peace.

That’s not a good enough reason to keep a buffer zone law. Don’t take my word for it. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in McCullen v. Coakley, relative to a Massachusetts buffer zone law, that one could not impose First Amendment restrictions outside an abortion facility without first using less-severe alternatives to address objectionable behavior. In legal parlance, restrictions outside abortion facilities must be narrowly tailored.

The Court affirmed the right of states to impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of speech. Overbroad laws, however, won’t withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.

That old struck-down Massachusetts law was the model for the New Hampshire law, by the way.

To quote from Justice Roberts’s opinion in McCullen, which I repeat was a unanimous decision, even as the abortion-friendly Justice Ginsburg was participating:

To meet the requirement of narrow tailoring, the government must demonstrate that alterna­tive measures that burden substantially less speech would fail to achieve the government’s interests, not simply that the chosen route is easier. A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.

If Common­wealth officials can compile an extensive record of obstruc­tion and harassment to support their preferred legislation, we do not see why they cannot do the same to support injunctions and prosecutions against those who might deliberately flout the law.  

McCullen v. Coakley, 573 U.S. 464

You have to enforce other laws and ordinances before impeding anyone’s First Amendment rights. Simple. Yet since 2014, that fact has not been enough to persuade New Hampshire legislators to throw out the buffer zone law. Republicans and Democrats alike bear the responsibility for ignoring McCullen; it’s a bipartisan error.

Fun fact: Massachusetts taxpayers eventually had to pay $1.2 million in legal fees to the attorneys for Eleanor McCullen, the plaintiff in the Massachusetts case.

Law enforcement avoided

Even today, as buffer zone repeal is introduced, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England seems to avoid calling on law enforcement. From a flyer distributed to patients at its Manchester facility this month: If you feel that you have been harassed or threatened by anyone near the health center at your health care visit today, please send an email to share your thoughts or experience to the email addresses below. Your voice and your privacy are important, and your elected leaders should hear from you: Office of Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, email mayor@manchesternh.gov; Manchester ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, email long55@comcast.net. You can also call the Mayor’s office right now at (603) 624-6500.

Photo by Catherine Kelley. Used with permission.

There’s something missing from that flyer: contact information for the Manchester police. If patient safety were a concern, the police phone number would be listed first. It’s not listed at all.

How to contact House Judiciary Committee about HB 430

I’m going to urge the members of the House Judiciary Committee to vote OUGHT TO PASS on HB 430. Here’s how.

Sign in on HB 430 immediately. Don’t wait until the hearing begins; the committee might not see your sign-in. Use this online form: choose February 9, House Judiciary Committee, HB 430, representing self, supporting the bill; indicate if you plan to testify and the amount of time you think you’ll need. You may also email your testimony (see below).

Watch and participate in the hearing via Zoom online. (All public participation in hearings is remote for the time being.) Zoom log-in: https://www.zoom.us/j/96805083773, or dial 1-929-205-6099 (note: that is a toll number; keep that in mind if you’re calling from a landline!). The webinar ID is 968 0508 3773.

Email your written testimony to the Judiciary Committee as soon as possible; you need not testify via Zoom. An email to HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us will reach all committee members.

Don't buffer the First Amendment

Header photo: Michael Drummond/Pixabay.

Sununu victory, GOP legislature: what’s ahead?

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, has won a third term. The same election flipped the House and Senate from Democrat to Republican majorities, subject to a few Senate recounts.

Will this yield any pro-life legislation?

You may recall that when Sununu ran for Governor the first time, he ran an ad touting his “pro-choice” position, but later said that he supported certain common-sense measures: fetal homicide legislation, Women’s Health Protection Act (standards for operation of abortion facilities), healthcare freedom of conscience, a late-term abortion ban, and buffer zone repeal.

(From 2016: A concerned Republican and Sununu’s reply)

After two terms, he has signed a fetal homicide law. None of the other measures he mentioned has even made it to his desk. It’s possible that a Republican majority in House and Senate will make a difference. After all, the Republican majority during Sununu’s first term did manage to pass that fetal homicide law, with the help of four Democrats and one Libertarian.

“Pro-life” isn’t spelled G-O-P. Neither is “First Amendment,” for that matter, as I recall repeated failures to repeal the buffer zone law. Even so, maybe some of those common-sense measures mentioned by the Governor might have a chance in 2021.

Interim study on assisted suicide bill yields committee recommendation

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 on September 1 to recommend that legislation addressing assisted suicide be considered in a future legislative session.

This is not the passage of any specific bill. It’s only a recommendation. This post is not a call to action, only a report. Here’s how we got here.

Read more of the post

Interim study meeting on assisted suicide bill

Update on HB 1659, introduced earlier this year in the New Hampshire House: this assisted suicide bill was sent to interim study. That’s the good news: it won’t become law in 2020.

Now for the other news: its originating committee can still recommend whether such legislation should be considered in the future. The House Judiciary Committee will have a public work session online on Tuesday, September 1, at 10:00 a.m. to consider that question.

While this is not a public hearing, it is a public meeting. Anyone is free to listen. Anyone wishing to send the committee comments, or re-send them, can email them to HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.

How to access the work session

This information is from the House Calendar. The note at the end about an executive session simply means that the committee can vote on its recommendation at any time. Remember that this cannot be a vote to pass HB 1659, but rather to give future legislators a non-binding recommendation on whether a similar bill should be considered in the future.

Full committee work session on HB 1659-FN, relative to patient directed care and patient’s rights with regard to end-of-life decisions.
Committee members will receive secure Zoom invitations via email.
Members of the public may attend using the following links:

1. To join the webinar: https://www.zoom.us/j/94261411599
2. Or Telephone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location): 1-312-626-6799, or 1-929-205-6099, or 1-253-215-8782, or 1-301-715-8592, or 1-346-248-7799, or 1-669-900-6833
3. Or iPhone one-tap: US: +13126266799, 95408968840# or +19292056099, 95408968840#
4. Webinar ID: 942 6141 1599
5. To view on YouTube, click here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxqjz56akoWRL_5vyaQDtvQ 

The following email will be monitored throughout the meeting by someone who can assist with and alert the committee to any technical issues: hcs@leg.state.nh.us or call (603-271-3600). Pursuant to House Rule 43 (b), executive session may take place throughout the committee deliberations.

Previous coverage of HB 1659

Leaven for the Loaf has covered the assisted suicide bill since its introduction in early 2020.

Assisted suicide bill to get House hearing

Pushing back: testimonies against assisted suicide, part 1 and part 2

Life issue votes from March 12 (including House vote on HB 1659)

Featured image by Hasty Words/Pixabay.

Sens. Shaheen & Hassan Blast Pro-life Bills

New Hampshire’s U.S. Senators have issued a joint statement condemning pending pro-life federal and state legislation. They used the term “extreme anti-choice bills” to refer to bills including born-alive infant protection acts.

Statement from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan

A few thoughts on some of the state-level legislation that has the Senators in a lather:

Shaheen calls infanticide “already illegal,” ignoring the fact that existing New Hampshire born-alive law has no enforcement mechanism. The New Hampshire Senate recently tabled SB 741-FN which would have provided meaningful protection for children who are born alive following attempted abortion. A House committee will vote on a similar bill, HB 1675-FN, on March 4.

Hassan says, “Women in New Hampshire and across the country deserve respect and dignity. They deserve the chance to thrive, and they deserve equality in every way, including by making their own health care choices.”  She does not explain how failing to protect born-alive females is consistent with respecting the dignity of women. Let her ask abortion survivors about “the chance to thrive.”

Both senators use the term “gag rule” to criticize efforts to prevent taxpayer dollars designated for family planning programs from being used to promote or provide abortions.

I conclude that in the eyes of both of New Hampshire’s U.S. Senators, it is extremely “anti-choice” to protect children who survive attempted abortion by imposing penalties on medical professionals who fail to do so.

In the eyes of our Senators, it is “anti-choice” for taxpayers to refuse to fund abortion and subsidize abortion providers.

In the eyes of our Senators, it is “anti-choice” to recognize that abortion is not health care.

In the eyes of our Senators, it is “anti-choice” to tell Planned Parenthood to get its hands out of taxpayer pockets if it wants to continue doing abortions.

In the eyes of our Senators, it is “anti-choice” to advance protective legislation that reflects concern for mother and child.

At least three people have announced their candidacy for the Senate seat currently occupied by Shaheen, up for re-election next November. Let’s see if any of them – and perhaps other potential challengers – know how to push back effectively and persuasively on abortion extremism.

Contact form for Sen. Shaheen

Contact form for Sen. Hassan

And once again, the statement from Sens. Shaheen and Hassan