Eye on the State House: my observations on some House/Senate races

Provided here at a reader’s request: This link will connect you to the newsletter I released earlier today listing districts where pro-life reps have competition in tomorrow’s primary. Please share the link if you find the information useful. Disclaimer, sadly necessary in today’s environment: this information is from a private individual, not a PAC. I did not produce the newsletter in coordination with any campaign or political organization.

Notes on NH House buffer zone hearing, SB 319

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on New Hampshire’s “buffer zone” bill this week. SB 319, as readers know by now, seeks to impose a First-Amendment-free zone around abortion facilities. The hearing lasted over three hours, and I was present for all but 45 minutes of it. The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday, April 30.

“I don’t understand why a particular business has more to say than I do about who gets to stand in the neighborhood.” – Greg Salts, Manchester resident

Greg Salts lives across the street from Manchester’s Planned Parenthood facility. He and his neighbors learned about SB 319 and its 25-foot “buffer” around abortion facilities when they read the news about Senate passage of the bill. No one had contacted him or anyone else on Penacook Street about this measure that would move prayer witnesses and protesters off of the sidewalk in front of PP and onto the neighbor’s sidewalks. He is not a fan of this legislation. Salts came to the hearing with his daughter, Hannah. She’s studying civics, and her father knows there’s nothing like an actual pending (threatening?) issue to show how government works.

“[SB 319] is about safety and balance.” – Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), prime sponsor

Soucy went on to say that the 25-foot zone “respects” the First Amendment. She later referred to an amendment she is supporting, which would change the zone to “up to 25 feet,” with the actual distance to be determined locally by some kind of law-enforcement/public works/abortion industry coalition.

Committee member Rep. Robert Rowe (R-Amherst) asked Soucy if she’d be willing to accept a five-foot buffering corridor leading to facility entrances. She replied that the 25-foot zone “was carefully considered” and was “needed.”

The zone would be uniform statewide – except where it wouldn’t …

Fellow sponsor Rep. Candace Bouchard (D-Concord) testified that a statewide buffer zone law would be “uniform” and would let “protesters” (what makes her think she knows that my prayer is a protest?) know what to expect no  matter where in the state they are. She said this in practically the same breath as her endorsement of the amendment. If the size of the zone varies with the decisions or whims of local officials, that ain’t uniform.

…and it would be imposed in a tearing hurry if passed

Bill sponsors acknowledged to the committee that the Supreme Court is pondering the Massachusetts 35-foot buffer zone law, but they did not see that as a reason to delay action in New Hampshire. In fact, the amendment supported by the sponsors would put SB 319 into effect thirty days after passage, which could actually be before the Court announces its decision.

Not asked at the hearing, but I’m curious: does anyone seriously think that if the 35-foot zone is upheld, New Hampshire’s zone would remain at 25 feet? Nope, me neither.

Full house, mostly pro-life & pro-First-Amendment

Fifteen minutes before the hearing began, there was already an overflow crowd. Judiciary Committee chair Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) delayed proceedings slightly so House staff could remove a divider between two rooms, tripling the seating capacity. Good call.

I recognized many pro-life women and men, including some who had taken time off work to be at the hearing. Several state representatives stopped by to sign in on the “blue sheet” before heading to their own committee hearings. A few  women in attendance sported bright pink “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” shirts. (I’ve never seen a faded PP shirt. Does anyone wear one more than once?)

Who defended the First Amendment? Every single person who testified against the bill. Some were people who pray on sidewalks, and some were people who engage in direct ministry to pregnant women. An Anglican priest and a Catholic nun both called on the committee to turn down the bill and its assault on free speech. Some of the testimony came from well-known New Hampshire pro-life activists. Without any coordination or preparation, all these people conveyed a powerful message: quit trying to “buffer” the Constitution.

I missed a chunk of the hearing, but while I was there, fifteen people testified against the bill, while six testified in favor of it. The six included three sponsors, representatives of two abortion providers, and NARAL’s lobbyist.

Police involvement at abortion facilities

[Insert crickets *here*]

Soucy testified that ten police calls were made in 2013 involving the Manchester PP facility. Committee members asked her how many arrests resulted. The answer: none. Jennifer Frizzell of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England testified to the committee about the sixty complaints PP received from its own clients in 2013 about activity outside PP facilities. Resulting arrests: zero.

Speech & prayer & violence

Quick: what’s the difference between a prayer and a bomb? Is it a matter of degree or of kind? I might have heard only six supporters of the bill, but I heard one message from them loud and clear: most of them tried hard to smear peaceful prolife witnesses by linking their behavior with that of vandals, assassins and bombers. Let it be noted that chief sponsor Donna Soucy did not stoop to that tactic as she introduced the bill to the committee.

“Anti-choice intimidation,” claimed Laura Thibault of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire. Quite the catch-all phrase.

I was at the hearing to represent a New Hampshire public policy group, and I submitted written testimony on the group’s behalf. When I was called on, though, I went way off script by challenging the smear directly. I looked at the twenty committee members, feeling as indignant as I ever get at a legislative hearing, and told them that if anyone is comparing me to the man who murdered abortion-facility workers Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, “you are wrong.” I probably didn’t win any votes with that remark, but I was tired of hearing slander go unchallenged.

Violence at abortion facilities is just as much a threat to prayer witnesses as to abortion workers, by the way – but that wasn’t a point that got much air time at the hearing.

SB 319: “A protection racket for the abortion industry” – Kurt Wuelper, NHRTL

Kurt Wuelper of the New Hampshire Right to Life committee criticized the bill as a political payoff to a favored group. After his impassioned testimony against the bill, including a ringing defense of sidewalk counselors who attempt to communicate with abortion-minded women, he got a question from one of the committee members (and I’m sorry that from my seat I couldn’t see who it was). What about a 14-year-old, pregnant and scared, going in for abortion services? Should she be intimidated? Should she have to face the people on the sidewalk?

(There’s a phrase: “abortion services.” Makes it sound like an oil change.)

Wuelper was undeterred. He asked the representative to think for a minute: a 14-year-old, possibly the survivor of statutory rape? Possibly – no, probably – being taken to the abortion by her rapist? You bet she ought to see people on the sidewalk, Wuelper affirmed. Everyone inside the facility has a financial interest in her abortion.

PP’s lobbyist trotted out the discredited abortion-is-only-3%-of-our-services line. (See Americans United for Life’s scrutiny of that statistic here.) The director of Concord’s Feminist Health Center said sadly that the people on the sidewalk “don’t realize” that most of the people going inside are not there for abortions.

Maybe PP would prefer that people only protest during 3% of their business hours – I don’t know. But abortions are done at PP and the Feminist Health Center and at other places yet to be identified. Abortion is not health care. People take other people’s lives in those places. That’s worth bearing witness to.

Prospects for the bill

The committee vote will be April 30 during the lunch break of the day’s House floor session, so it’s impossible to know the exact time. 11:30 at the earliest and 1:30 at the latest, would be my guess. The vote will be open to the public.

The Judiciary Committee is not a haven for pro-life legislation. A buffer zone speaks directly to the abortion supporters on the committee – but will the First Amendment speak louder? One needn’t be pro-life to understand that SB 319 would violate the rights of people who stand outside in silent prayer. “Not everyone is in ‘silent prayer’,” said the abortion providers at the hearing. True enough. So why haven’t those providers called upon the police to enforce disorderly conduct laws? For that matter – as I’ve seen in Manchester – why don’t they call the police to enforce parking laws? Why are they seeking special-interest legislation that will snare people who are praying silently, when existing laws remain unenforced?

Will the abortion industry get a hearing when the Constitution can’t? I have my suspicions. I hope I’m wrong.

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What do you think? Will the committee recommend the buffer zone?

Related posts: Senate hearing on SB 319, Senate votes on SB 319

 

 

 

 

Griffin’s Law: twelve senators said no

CAM00397As I reported on Twitter (@leaven4theloaf) and Facebook, the New Hampshire Senate twice rejected versions of Griffin’s Law before tabling it earlier today. Griffin, the lost grandson of Rep. Leon Rideout, inspired debate but no resolution. There will be no fetal homicide law in New Hampshire this year without a change of heart by at least two senators. Make that two senators and one governor, although the Senate spared Gov. Hassan a decision on vetoing the bill.

The facts

Griffin’s Law, HB 1503, was amended and passed by the House. The amended language was for all practical purposes nongermane, removing the fetal homicide language. When HB 1503 reached the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee voted 3-2 to restore the original language. That’s what came to the Senate floor today.

The Senate has 24 members: 13 Republican, 11 Democrat. Democratic Sen. Andrew Hosmer of Laconia (district 7) was absent today, so 23 votes were cast. Griffin’s Law would have needed twelve to pass today.

First came a motion to table the bill before debate began. That was swiftly defeated. Next was a motion to pass the bill as the committee recommended, using Rep. Leon Rideout’s original language. That motion failed on a vote of 10-13. Another amendment was introduced to make the law apply only late in pregnancy – at “viability.” That only swayed one vote; the amendment failed 11-12. Finally, the bill was tabled on a 21-2 vote.

The senators

Every Democratic senator present, along with two Republicans, voted against both versions of HB 1503 that were presented today. Let it never be said that fetal homicide is a partisan issue. Here they are: Senators Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton, district 1), David Watters (D-Dover, Dist.4), David Pierce (D-Lebanon, dist. 5), Bob Odell (R-Lempster, dist. 8), Molly Kelly (D-Keene, dist. 10), Peggy Gilmour (D-Hollis, dist. 12), Bette Lasky (D-Nashua, dist. 13), Sylvia Larsen (D-Concord, dist. 15), Donna Soucy (D-Manchester, dist. 18), Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester, dist. 20), Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth, dist. 21), and Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton, dist. 24).

One Republican senator voted against the committee version of the bill but supported a bill that would have applied at “viability” of the preborn child: Senator Jim Rausch of Derry (district 19).

Ten senators, all Republicans, voted Yes on both versions: Senators Jeanie Forrester (Meredith, district 2), Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro, dist. 3), Sam Cataldo (Farmington, dist. 6), Andy Sanborn (Bedford, dist. 9), Peter Bragdon (Milford, dist. 11), Sharon Carson (Londonderry, dist. 14), David Boutin (Manchester, dist. 16), John Reagan (Deerfield, dist. 17), Chuck Morse (Salem, dist. 22), and Russell Prescott (Kingston, dist. 23).

Who spoke up – and who suddenly discovered science

Senators Cataldo, Carson and Bradley led the debate, defending the bill to their colleagues. Carson and Cataldo are on the Judiciary Committee, and they explained their restoration of the original language of the bill even in the face of the House’s gutting of it.

Bradley, the Majority Leader, introduced the viability language, which was actually proposed by former Democratic Senator Matthew Houde a couple of years ago during the last attempt at a fetal homicide bill. Ironically, Houde’s language was rejected by his colleagues at the time because it didn’t go far enough. The consequences of the 2012 election were all over today’s debate.

Senator Stiles spoke of “scientific inaccuracies” in the bill, including an “ambiguous” definition of “fetus.” Senator Gilmour, a nurse by training and experience, called the bill “flawed” and said (incorrectly) that it would interfere with treatment for ectopic pregnancy. Senator Watters fretted over the bill’s reference to “basic attributes” of the human species and the definition of “sustained extrauterine survival.”

Stiles, Gilmour, and Watters are all abortion advocates, so much so that it was news when Stiles supported the partial-birth abortion ban now in New Hampshire law. If Griffin’s mother Ashlyn Rideout had wanted to terminate her pregnancy, none of those senators would have brought up anything about science, including fetal development. Ashlyn’s “choice” would have been all they needed to know. But since Ashlyn’s little boy Griffin was wanted, the senators have to bring in all the concern for science and accuracy that they happily throw to the winds when the mother’s “choice” is to stop being a mother.

The lobbyist for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union watched the debate silently from the gallery. NHCLU opposes fetal homicide legislation. Their lobbyist is obviously pregnant. I hope her employers respect her choice more than they did Ashlyn’s.

Same time, next year?

It’s technically possible for the Senate to remove the bill from the table later this session, but no one will move to do so without a guarantee of thirteen votes either way. Fetal-homicide-bill opponents don’t want to bring it up for an inexpedient-to-legislate motion and then lose.

After the vote, two senators stopped to talk to me and said they’d like to bring this legislation back next year. That’s one election away. Griffin’s family will be back, too.

[photo of New Hampshire Senate chamber by Leon Rideout]

Related posts:

Rep. Rideout: “Why I’m filing Griffin’s Law”

“We’re on a crusade”

When chivalry isn’t enough

Lynch vetoes fetal homicide bill (2012)

Veto override falls just short (2012)

 

 

 

 

 

Delay in vote means extra evening to lobby the NH House

Gotta love a long agenda. New Hampshire’s $100-a-year citizen legislators have eight more days to deal with all their bills before they take up what’s coming over from the Senate. This week’s life-issue bills got pushed to tomorrow, March 20: abortion-facility licensing, collection of abortion statistics, Griffin’s law, and the truly long-shot (given the makeup of this legislature) personhood bill.

Fun fact: the House today rejected a bill that would have repealed the requirement that New Hampshire restaurants serve sugar only in packets. No open bowls of sugar. Food safety prevails, or some such thing. We’ll see tomorrow how many reps support regulating sugar bowls but not abortion facilities.

Putting down a marker for women’s health

I wrote this originally for Cornerstone Action, where I serve (2014) as legislative affairs director. New Hampshire’s abortion statistics bill, HB 1502, will get its floor vote this week. 

As yet another abortion-statistics bill approaches a vote in the New Hampshire House, one legislator’s words stand out. Rep. Don LeBrun (R-Nashua) wrote an explanation for his committee’s recommendation that HB 1502 be sent for interim study. Here is what he had to say, as printed in the House calendar:

“The committee is committed to collect any meaningful public health data in an aggregated form.”

That’s a marker. I’m going to keep an eye on it. I want to believe it means something.

If you cared about women’s health, why wouldn’t you want to know how abortion affects it? Why won’t the Granite State collect and report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control, as nearly every other state does?

In New Hampshire, the absence of reporting requirements screams “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Let’s not talk about how many women and adolescents choose abortion. We don’t want the public to know if anyone has post-abortive complications or if a particular provider is a Gosnell-in-waiting. No need to know if late-term abortions are happening.

It’s time for New Hampshire legislators and public health officials to shrug off old attitudes. It’s time to stop relying on voluntary reporting by abortion providers, who are happy to provide data to the private Alan Guttmacher Institute while fighting to block state reporting requirements.

On a New Hampshire Public Radio call-in show this morning, an abortion provider from Bedford phoned in to say, “The statistics are known. Abortion is safe. I’m sort of upset about these continued attacks on women’s rights.”

No, doctor. The statistics are not known. They’re guessed at. There is no reporting requirement. And the fact that a doctor can call this an attack on women’s rights underscores how thoroughly the abortion industry has co-opted what used to be an unquestionably honorable profession.

The states that report statistics to the CDC don’t all collect the same information. Some states track the number of abortions, period. Others seek more detail. Some New Hampshire abortion providers expressed concern at the hearing on HB 1502 that statistical collection might not preserve anonymity for women and for providers. To them, I say look to other states and see how they get the job done.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England covers Vermont and Maine as well as New Hampshire. At the hearing on HB 1502, one committee member asked the PPNNE lobbyist if statistics were collected in the other two states. She said yes – and went on to object to HB 1502 anyway.

“Interim study” can mean “file and forget.” This time, a legislator speaking for a committee has said “the committee is committed to collect any meaningful health data in an aggregated form.” Rep. LeBrun’s sincerity is not in question. The collective will of the committee is another matter entirely.

The marker is down. Let’s see what happens.