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Fun fact: the House today rejected a bill that would have repealed the requirement that New Hampshire restaurants serve sugar only in packets.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.

NH House committee dismisses abortion-facility licensing & stats bills

The New Hampshire House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee (HHS) voted unanimously today to send an abortion statistics bill to interim study and to kill an abortion-facility licensing bill outright. The full House will vote on both bills in March.

Licensing: “I’m really insulted by this.”

Rep. Barbara French left no one in doubt about her feelings towards the licensing bill. “I’m really insulted by this. Every clinic in the state of New Hampshire is operating above and beyond.” Rep. French’s remark came just before the HHS committee voted 17-0 on an “inexpedient to legislate” motion on HB 1501. Noting for the record her credentials as a nurse for more than 50 years, she called abortion “a highly regulated medical procedure.” She recited a list of inspections to which the Feminist Health Center in Concord submits periodically, including “annual inspection by the [executive] Department of Health and Human Services.”

Before the bill’s first hearing, sponsor Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester) told me about her efforts to get information about those inspections from the Department. To my knowledge, she came up empty.

Also speaking against the bill was Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye), a physician, who made the motion to kill the bill.  In HB 1501’s original hearing, he had expressed frustration at being unable to question the numerous doctors who sent written testimony in favor of licensing. Has he tried to reach any of those doctors? I don’t know, but he has had time since the original hearing to review (in his words) “the literature on abortion, all the peer-reviewed journals I could find, [and] I spoke with providers.” His conclusion: “This is considered by the medical community to be a safe procedure. All the requirements of the bill violate standard of practice. This bill is inappropriate.”

Other members of the committee were silent until it was time to vote. Then it was one “yes” after another until all seventeen members of the committee had gone on record.

Collecting abortion statistics: file and forget

The committee voted 17-0 to send an abortion statistics bill to interim study. New Hampshire is one of the very few states that refuse to monitor abortion statistics as a matter of public health: how many women obtain abortion, their ages and the gestational age of their children, how many repeat abortions. That will continue into the foreseeable future, given the absence of any will to follow up.

Interim study, you see, is usually a black hole. Now and then, when there is a knotty problem that legislators genuinely want to explore, an interim-study vote leads to hearings – but this is not one of those times. Sometimes, interim study is a good tactic for keeping options open. I heard nothing today to make me think the option of actual study will be carried out.

There was no debate and no discussion once Rep. Don LeBrun (R-Nashua) made the interim-study motion. During the vote, when the clerk came to Rep. Susan Ticehurst (D-Tamworth), an abortion supporter, there was a pause before she said, “with grave reservations, yes.” Reservations? Like a fear that a study might actually happen? It was not a time for questions, though, and the roll call went on.

The last statistics bill was HB 1680, introduced a few years ago by Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-Salem). It passed after being amended into a simple call for a study committee. That turned out to be interim study the hard way. No study committee ever convened.

There might not even be a debate when the bills get to the House floor. Unanimous committee votes usually mean a bill goes on the consent calendar with other “non-controversial” bills.

February 8: a day of prayer for victims of human trafficking

I’d like to believe such things as human trafficking are imaginary or merely historical, but then I’d have to ignore too much.

A couple of years ago, I heard personally from a woman who had been trafficked sexually as a teenager. This wasn’t some runaway who had been taken in by a pimp in the big city, not that such a situation would have been any better. No, this woman, Theresa Flores, had been a 15-year-old high school student in an American midwestern suburb when she was drugged and then sexually assaulted as the attackers taped the assault. By threats of exposing the tape and later by threats of harming her unwitting family, the attackers forced Flores into two years of working for them as a slave sold into prostitution.

Impossible? I can only wish. Flores now travels far and wide to share her story and to increase awareness of how prevalent human trafficking is today in the United States. She rightly calls herself a survivor. She is doing what she can to spare other people what she went through.

Not all trafficking is sexual. Only a few miles from where I live, just across the river, two people were convicted a decade ago of depriving several migrant agricultural workers from Jamaica of their passports and the wages that had been promised to them.

There are various special observances sponsored by advocacy groups who want to bring a halt to human trafficking. One of those days is tomorrow, February 8, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita.

Bakhita was a Sudanese woman born in the middle of the nineteenth century. Kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, tortured by her “owners,” she ultimately wound up in Italy. Eventually, a court ruling freed her. She adopted the Catholic faith, and entered a convent while retaining a missionary spirit: “her mind was always on God, and her heart in Africa.”

She died on February 8,1947, and has since been recognized as a saint by the Catholic church and as patroness of Sudan and of all victims of trafficking. The anniversary of her death is an especially apt time to spend time in prayer for all people who are being bought and sold as commodities.

I wish this were something past – a sorry part of the human condition from which we have all turned in horror. It’s not. There are still people in slavery, some very close to home – still people selling other people – and still people who create the market by “buying” the services of the trafficked victims.

A couple of bills are pending in the New Hampshire legislature this year in an effort to fight this plague. One would create a civil right of action for trafficking victims, while the other seeks to do that plus strengthen existing state anti-trafficking legislation.

People aren’t property. I pray for the day when that can go without saying.

 

 

 

 

“We’re on a crusade”: the Rideout family leads the charge for Griffin’s Law

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Rep. Rideout’s family distributed ribbons at the hearing on HB 1503.

Rep. Leon Rideout was more than a colleague when he spoke yesterday to the New Hampshire House’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee. He spoke as a grandfather whose grandson Griffin died shortly after his premature birth triggered by an auto collision – and who in the eyes of the law was no victim at all. He spoke as father to Ashlyn, who was 7½ months pregnant with Griffin and was herself injured in the collision, caused by another driver ignoring a traffic signal. He spoke for his large extended family, who helped fill the public section of the hearing room.

Rideout is sponsoring HB 1503, a fetal homicide bill that he’s calling Griffin’s Law. It should be a no-brainer. Of course, the last try in 2012 should have been a no-brainer, too. The first efforts around 1990, promoted by the late Rep. Carolyn Brady (R-Manchester), should have gained traction at the time. But they didn’t. Rep. Rideout’s family wanted to make sure that everyone in the room knew why the law is necessary.

He apparently has colleagues who aren’t yet sold on the idea. Rideout took to Facebook today to call on HB 1503 supporters to reach out to Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia).

“Thank You To Everyone That Came to The Hearing and Showed Support. It was a Great showing !! We have a Battle before the Committee Execs #Griffinslaw Rep Huot is going to bring an amendment that basically guts the bill and leaves NH basically where it is today Please E mail / Call Him and tell him not to amend HB 1503 Phone: (603)524-7641
Email: david.huot@leg.state.nh.us”

Huot is reportedly attempting to accommodate the concerns of abortion advocates. He might want to read Lamy first.

Rideout made a point of reminding the committee about the Lamy case, in which the state supreme court suggested that the legislature amend the homicide statutes to address what happened in situation’s like Griffin’s. He handed a copy of the case to each committee member.

The “blue sheet,” signed by people who couldn’t attend the hearing but wanted to register an opinion on the bill, had many signatures. Many were from fellow state representatives who had to attend their own committee hearings. Almost all the names on the sheet had “support the bill” checked off.

Almost.

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Pro-Choice NH showed up to try to put the brakes on the bill. Devon Chaffee for NHCLU and Laura Thibault of NARAL each made an effort to acknowledge the grief of families like Rep. Rideout’s who lose a child and find that the criminal justice system has nothing to say to the assailants. Then came the Buts and Howevers. “This does not go far enough to safeguard a woman’s rights,” said Chaffee. “This tends to erode women’s rights. While this bill includes an exemption for abortion, if passed it will contribute to the nationwide effort to establish a framework to overturn Roe v. Wade,” added Thibault.

Shirley Kenison-Ward, Griffin's grandmother.
Shirley Kenison-Ward, Griffin’s grandmother. Photo by Rep. Leon Rideout.

The bill explicitly does not apply to ANY fetal death that occurs at the mother’s behest. This means abortion wouldn’t trigger any charge against anyone. Further, thirty-eight states already have fetal homicide laws, according to Rideout, and not one has been overturned. Clear enough? Not to NHCLU and NARAL. They simply can’t abide fetal homicide laws. Chaffee went so far as to say New Hampshire law already covers fetal homicide. The Lamy case puts the lie to that.

It’s fitting that Chaffee and Thibault found their testimony bracketed by Griffin’s grandparents. Rep. Rideout opened the hearing. Later, Shirley Kenison-Ward, “Grammy Shirley,” made sure the committee knew this was no transitory cause. “We’re on a crusade,” she said tearfully, with a relative standing next to her displaying photos to the committee. “Our family is on a mission to make sure if a person causes bodily harm or death to an unborn child due to violence or criminal behavior, there will be consequences.”

Will the bill be gutted, as Rep. Rideout fears? What language is Rep. Huot proposing? What could possibly allay the fears of abortion advocates while still allowing the criminal prosecution of people who cause a pregnant woman like Ashlyn to lose her son only weeks before she was due to give birth? It is likely to be a few days before the CJPS committee takes a vote. Rep. Leon Rideout will be watching very closely.

Related posts: House committee vote on Griffin’s Law, Senate vote on Griffin’s Law