N.H. House Committee Rejects Buffer Zone Repeal Bill

On a vote of 14-4, the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee voted “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL) today on HB 124, which seeks to repeal the buffer zone law. The full House will take up the bill at a date yet to be determined.

The law, written to give abortion facility managers authority to restrict public access to public areas, has never been used since its passage in 2014. Its clear incompatibility with the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCullen decision might be the reason. Only the abortion facility managers know for sure.

All Democrats on the committee were joined by Republicans Edward Gordon (R-Bristol) and Joe Alexander (R-Goffstown) in voting to kill the repeal effort. Voting against the ITL motion were Republicans Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford), Gary Hopper (R-Weare), Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown), and Mark McLean (R-Manchester).

“For me, it comes down to a free speech issue,” said Rep. McLean. “No clinic throughout the state has actually put [the buffer zone’s] provisions into play.”

Rep. Wuelper, the bill’s chief sponsor, told his colleagues before the vote, “[The buffer zone law’s] very intent is to restrict speech and religion in a public space based on the content of speech. [The law] hasn’t done any good in five years. It won’t do any good in 50 years.”

Not so, countered Rep. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland). “Perhaps it’s had a salutary effect,” he said. “The facts that were present [when the law was passed] have not changed.” He’s right about that much: McCullen was present when the law was passed and it’s still binding precedent. Rep. Berch also said, “The law was drafted and passed after the Supreme Court decision [in McCullen].” He may have forgotten that the buffer zone law was drafted no later than the opening of the legislative session in January 2014, while the McCullen decision came down in June of that year.

“This is a church-state issue,” added Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham), saying he had documentation that one particular religious entity, the Catholic Church, opposed the buffer zone. “I am a Roman Catholic myself.” His one-religion claim probably comes as a surprise to people like Rev. Don Colageo of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manchester, who has frequently led prayer vigils at an area abortion site. Further, said Rep. Horrigan, “There isn’t a First Amendment right to provide counseling or advocacy if you’re not licensed.”

The ITL motion was made by Rep. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) and seconded by Rep. Sandra Keans (D-Rochester.)

Buffer zone repeal, 2019: hearing Jan. 9

Nine New Hampshire state representatives led by Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) are sponsoring HB 124, a bill to repeal the state’s so-called “buffer zone” law. That law is an anti-First-Amendment measure targeting peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities. The public hearing on HB 124 is scheduled for Wednesday, January 9, in the House Judiciary Committee at 1:00 p.m. in room 208 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord.

The committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation to the full House regarding the bill on January 15.

Options for registering your opinion on the bill:

  • Attend the hearing. At that time you may deliver your testimony (speaking) to the committee, deliver written testimony with or without speaking, or simply sign the bill’s “blue sheet” (which will be available near the door of the committee room) to check off a box indicating support for the bill.
  • Email the committee. The Judiciary Committee page on the House web site does not currently provide a committee address, but if you email chief sponsor Rep. Wuelper at kurt.wuelper@leg.state.nh.us, he can forward your message to his colleagues. Subject line: YES on HB 124.

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law was passed in 2014, but has never been used. It authorizes abortion facility managers to determine where and when peaceful pro-life witnesses may occupy public property near abortion facilities. Maggie Hassan, then serving as Governor, signed the law despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had only days before ruled a similar Massachusetts law to be unconstitutional (McCullen v. Coakley).

For background, you can consult the dedicated page compiling this blog’s reports on the buffer zone issue.


Text of HB 124 as introduced:

AN ACT repealing the law relative to the buffer zones to reproductive health care facilities.

1. Statement of Findings and Purpose.
I. The general court hereby finds that:

(a) The exercise of a person’s right to free speech is a First Amendment activity, the protection of which is paramount.

(b) RSA 132:37 through RSA 132:40 (2014, 81) would infringe on the free speech rights of innocent people.

(c) RSA 132:37 through RSA 132:40 (2014, 81), if implemented would be subject to immediate constitutional challenge.

(d) RSA 132:37 through RSA 132:40 (2014, 81) has served no public purpose.

II. Therefore, the general court hereby repeals RSA 132:37 through RSA 132:40 because if left as law, this statute will cause the state of New Hampshire to expend considerable sums defending a law which the United States Supreme Court may find unconstitutional and which has served no public purpose.

2 Repeal. RSA 132:37-132:40, relative to access to reproductive health care facilities, are repealed.

3 Effective Date. This act shall take effect upon its passage.

 

How NH’s Secretary of State Could Affect Abortion Statistics

Former Executive Councilor Colin “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” Van Ostern is campaigning to replace New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner. The vote will be taken on December 5 by the newly-elected House and Senate in Concord. The result will have implications for an important pro-life policy goal.

[Update, 12/6/18: Secretary of State Gardner narrowly won re-election over Mr. Van Ostern.]

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From June 2016: then-Executive Councilors Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern before voting Yes on contracts with abortion providers.

New Hampshire is one of very few states that does not report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a public health measure. If – excuse me, when – New Hampshire finally puts women’s health ahead of lesser concerns, two state departments will be involved in any statistics program: the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which oversees public health issues, and the Department of State, which oversees the Division of Vital Records.

That’s why it matters who holds the position of New Hampshire Secretary of State. The administrative framework for carrying out any statistics-collection program will be handled by the team in the vital records office. If that office answers to a pro-abortion Secretary of State, I don’t believe cooperation with an abortion statistics law will be forthcoming.

In past discussions to which I’ve been a party regarding proposed abortion-statistics legislation, a representative of the vital records office has been present. At every point, that representative has been scrupulously neutral on abortion, assuring policymakers that the division can find and implement any necessary software and procedures to collect abortion statistics in a manner that respects the privacy of all individuals.

Whenever a legislative policy committee has had a hearing on abortion and has requested input from the vital records office, that has been the essence of the office’s message: you tell us what you want collected – and since this is information other states are already collecting and reporting to the CDC, we’re not talking rocket science here – and we’ll get the job done.

That’s been the policy under Bill Gardner. Mr. Gardner is a Democrat, but at no point in his tenure as Secretary of State has that made a difference to him. He has carried out every aspect of his job in a nonpartisan manner. Andrew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy summed it up:

…Gardner gave his loyalty to the office, never to a party or person. Being his friend, as many legislators have been, was no help if your race was close. Being a member of his political party was no help, either. And everyone knew it.

Gardner always understood that the survival of a democratic republic requires trust in its institutions. If the state’s top election official showed even hints of favoritism, trust in the system would erode. And that would undermine our whole experiment in republican government.

Newly-elected Democrats in the New Hampshire House held a straw poll not long ago. Van Ostern won in a landslide. Since then, many New Hampshire officials – including Democrats former Gov. John Lynch and current Sen. Lou D’Allesandro – have spoken up about why they support Gardner for Secretary of State. Will their endorsements make a difference? We’ll find out on December 5.

That’s when the New Hampshire House and Senate will meet in joint session. First order of business will be swearing in the victors of November’s election. Democrats will be in the majority. Then comes the vote for Secretary of State.

The result is going to matter.

Conscience bill: what to remember & why to act now

I went to the hearing on HB 1787 yesterday, regarding conscience protections for health care providers who decline to participate in abortion, sterilization, or artificial contraception. I have many pages of notes. I made an audio recording of part of the session. I could give you a blow-by-blow description of everything.

But I won’t today. Not here, not now. There are only two takeaways I want to share with you immediately, knowing that the House Judiciary Committee has put off for another day its vote on the bill. Haven’t contacted them yet? Hop to it, please, before sunrise on February 22: HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

  1. There are legislators – a substantial number on the committee, actually – who appear to believe that people who won’t do abortions don’t belong in any medical field at all. 
  2. There are legislators who adamantly assert that there is no difference between induced abortion, miscarriage, and the loss of a child as an indirect effect of the direct action of saving a mother’s life (treating a woman for ectopic pregnancy, for example). 

Number two got backing from the ACLU of New Hampshire and from a Dr. Young, a Concord OB/GYN who came to testify against conscience rights. This is the same doctor who at the hearing on the late-term abortion bill testified that in 35 years of practice, he had never seen or heard of a post-18-week abortion on a healthy fetus.

Fortunately, other doctors were present who defended conscience rights and urged legislators to pass the bill. They were questioned closely about how intent could possibly distinguish one kind of pregnancy termination from another. They answered truthfully, but I could see their words falling on stony ground.

Your doctor needs to hear this. Pharmacists need to know about this bill. So do nurses and PAs. For that matter, so do the people working in abortion facilities who really don’t want to be the ones to reassemble the products of conception following an abortion.

I’ll update this post after the committee makes its recommendation.

UPDATE, 2/27/18: The House Judiciary Committee voted “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 1787, 14-4.

SB 490: “A Thinly Veiled Effort to Study Assisted Suicide”

Nancy Elliott wasted no time sending a message to the New Hampshire Senate committee considering SB 490, the “end of life” study bill. The bill’s sponsor made her assisted suicide advocacy clear in her own testimony, if not in her bill. Elliott, a former New Hampshire legislator who is now heads up Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – USA, responded with written testimony. It was published in full on EPC’s blog. Here’s an excerpt.

Nancy Elliott (photo by Ellen Kolb)

I am opposed to SB490 because it is a thinly veiled effort to study Assisted Suicide, also known as death with dignity, medical aid in dying, euthanasia and mercy killing, with the intent to legalize it in New Hampshire. Our state has a long standing bipartisan opposition to Assisted Suicide. This practice is discriminatory to the disabled and elderly, sending them the message that they are not as valuable as able bodied people. While young and healthy individuals receive suicide counseling, the elderly, sick and disabled are steered to take their lives.

I know this bill is for a STUDY, but studying things that would be harmful if passed is a waste of taxpayer money and runs the risk of giving legitimacy and momentum to this practice….I believe that this commission is dangerous to our citizens because the report that will come out, will indicate an imaginary mandate for Assisted Suicide.

Read the full post here.