Pro-life winners in New Hampshire Senate recounts

Three New Hampshire senators who voted to table a 2020 born-alive infant protection bill were voted out of office on November 3rd. Three recounts this week confirmed that pro-life senators will take their places.

In district 11, Gary Daniels (R-Milford) will return to the Senate after losing the seat two years ago to Shannon Chandley (D-Amherst). After an intense campaign, the margin of victory was 159 votes out of more than 34,000 cast. A mailer from the New Hampshire Democratic Party attacking Daniels for voting pro-life apparently didn’t boost Chandley as intended. (See The Attack Ad Told Me to Check the Facts – So I Did.) Daniels previously served two terms in the Senate after 9 terms in the House.

Kevin Avard (R-Nashua) unseated Melanie Levesque (D-Brookline) in District 12. Avard had served two terms before being ousted by Levesque in 2018. This time, Avard prevailed by 805 votes. The “singing Senator” will soon be back on the job.

District 9’s Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough), a one-term senator, was beaten by Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford), a newcomer to state-level politics. Hours into a recount on November 10, Dietsch withdrew her challenge when a hand count of ballots from the largest towns in the district failed to put a dent in Ricciardi’s 409-vote lead.

Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead) of district 19, sponsor of the 2020 born-alive bill, was re-elected easily.

Republicans will have a 14-10 majority in the upcoming Senate term.

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.

Post-veto, a clarifying moment on Twitter

Yes, Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the odious abortion insurance mandate. I’ve thanked him. I hope readers will do likewise.

Nothing in the veto changes his attitude toward abortion. The veto indicated respect for those who disagree with him, just as it indicated concern that the mandate would have cost the state money. That’s as far as it goes.

Three people came together in a Twitter exchange a few hours after the veto to clear this up for pro-life voters.

First, this from Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord), who hopes to get the Democratic nomination for Governor this fall. He pitched his customary reproductive-rights spiel.

Mere minutes later came this reply from a gentleman working for the Governor’s re-election, formerly on the Governor’s staff. He helpfully pointed out that Planned Parenthood has not suffered under the Governor’s leadership, despite the fact that he has disappointed them twice in five years (more about that here, under “an interesting anniversary”).

A state representative summed it up well in her reply to Mr. Vihstadt. She does not trash the Governor, nor has she ever done so in my hearing. She is a thoughtful individual. But she does have a habit of calling things as she sees ’em.

Ouch. But yes.

Gratitude for the veto is a good thing. It’s downright essential, in my book. Acknowledgment of the conscience rights of Granite Staters is always refreshing to see.

Maybe that’ll extend to keeping tax dollars away from abortion providers someday.

Perhaps that’s a conversation to be had on the campaign trail.

Where Your Reps Stand: N.H. General Court Votes, 2019-2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted The New Hampshire House and Senate (collectively, the General Court), most of 2020’s life-issue bills were dealt with before the mid-March suspension. Granite Staters can see how their representatives have voted and can follow up accordingly.

  • Look up the names of your state representatives and state senator. Note that you might be covered by two House districts.
  • Look up the votes for the bills listed below.
  • Remember in November. Acting sooner might be a good idea, too: the period to file declarations of candidacy for state offices is June 3-12. Want to run, or know someone who should? That’s when to make a House or Senate candidacy official.

Still pending is SB 486, a bill to require that certain health insurance policies cover abortion. The Senate passed the bill along party lines. The House will schedule a hearing sometime after it reconvenes on June 11. Governor Sununu’s position on the bill is unknown.

Notes on the votes

The bills listed below are the ones for which a clear roll call is available. If a bill you’ve been following isn’t on the list, the chances are that it was disposed of with a voice vote or a division vote. (A division vote reflects a numerical result without any indication of how a specific representative voted.)

For each bill I’m highlighting below, I’ve provided links to the most relevant roll call vote. As to who determines what a “preferred” vote looks like, that’s me exercising editorial discretion. Readers may reach different conclusions. I trust that there’s enough information here for anyone curious about these particular bills.

If you want a broader view of how your representative has voted, the General Court website is your source. Go to Who’s My Legislator? and click on your town. You’ll get a list of all the reps from your district. Click on any name and you’ll be directed to that rep’s information page. From there, click on the “Voting Record” box. That will lead you to your rep’s votes on every roll call from the current session. There are over a hundred roll calls so far.

Always keep in mind that “yes” is not always a vote in favor of the bill; it is actually a vote in favor of a particular motion. Motions may be Ought to Pass (OTP), Ought to Pass with Amendment (OTP/A), Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL), or Table (which prevents an up-or-down vote on the bill).

When a legislator is marked “excused,” that means the legislator notified the House Clerk in advance of the day’s session that she or he would be absent. “Not voting” is an unexcused absence, which could mean having to leave the session early, deliberately skipping a vote, or being elsewhere in the building when the Sergeant-at-Arms bellowed out “roll call!”

Senate

SB 741, born-alive infant protection

Upon a motion made and seconded by abortion advocates, the Senate tabled SB 741 on a 14-10 vote. The bill would have provided enforceable protection for infants surviving attempted abortion. Preferred vote: NAY on the tabling motion. (Vote #30, 2/13/2020)

Can a tabled bill be brought back for further action? As a technical matter, the answer is yes, if a sufficient number of senators vote to do so. As a practical matter, SB 741 is going to die on the table.

Related: Big Talk, Then a Whimper (2/13/2020)

HB 455, death penalty repeal

Overriding Governor Chris Sununu’s veto by the slimmest of margins, the House and Senate nudged HB 455 into law. As of May 30, 2019, New Hampshire courts will no longer sentence anyone to death. The Senate vote was 16-8 on the veto override, just making the necessary two-thirds needed. Preferred vote: YES on the override. (Vote #163, 5/30/19)

To call this one emotional is an understatement. Opposition to the death penalty is something on which I get lively pushback in conversation with some policymakers who are otherwise consistently pro-life.

Related: A Note on Death Penalty Repeal (5/22/19)

House

HB 124, buffer zone repeal

The House voted “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 124, an attempt to repeal the buffer zone law. The ITL motion passed 228-141. Preferred vote: NAY on ITL. (Vote #15, 1/31/2019)

The failure of the repeal attempt was a hollow victory for opponents of the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses. The buffer zone law itself remains on the books but is unenforced, with a court challenge certain to follow any attempt to put it into effect.

Links to this blog’s coverage of the buffer zone law since 2013 are here.

HB 158, abortion statistics

The House voted “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 158, regarding the collection and reporting of statistics on induced termination of pregnancy in the state. The ITL motion passed 218-144. Preferred vote: NAY on ITL. (Vote #79, 3/7/2019)

Related: New Stats Dispute Comes Up in Committee (5/9/2019)

HB 291, end-of-life study

Sponsors of HB 291 were candid in their public testimony: their idea of end-of-life “care” included assisted suicide. The House voted “ought to pass,” 214-140. Preferred vote: NAY on OTP. (Vote #88, 3/14/2019)

The Senate later amended the bill, but the House refused to concur with the Senate’s changes. The bill therefore died (fittingly).

HB 455, death penalty repeal

See my comments above on the Senate’s HB 455 vote. The override margin in the House was nearly as slim: 247-123. Preferred vote: YEA on override. (Vote #201, 5/23/19)

HB 1675, born-alive infant protection

The formal description of HB 1675 was “relative to the right of any infant born alive to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” That was too much for a majority of New Hampshire’s current House members, who voted “inexpedient to legislate,” 177-131. Preferred vote: NAY on ITL. (Vote #101, 3/12/2020)

Related: Video from House Committee Saying “No” to Born-Alive Bill (3/8/2020); House Votes Down Born-Alive Protection (3/12/2020)

HB 1678, prenatal nondiscrimination act

HB 1678 would have barred abortions performed for reasons of Down syndrome, other genetic anomaly, or sex selection. Penalties for violation would have applied to the abortion provider, not the mother of the child. In one of the last votes cast by the House before the COVID-19 suspension, House members voted “inexpedient to legislate,” 193-101. Preferred vote: NAY on ITL. (Vote #142, 3/12/2020)

Senate version of born-alive bill hearing February 4

The New Hampshire Senate Health and Human Services Committee will have a public hearing on SB 741-FN, a born-alive infant protection bill, on Tuesday, February 4 at 3:20 p.m. in room 100 of the State House. This is the Senate version of HB 1675-FN, which was heard in the House Judiciary Committee on January 29.

Chief sponsor of SB 741-FN is Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead). She is joined by eight Senate co-sponsors and four House co-sponsors.

Unlike most House committees, a Senate committee may vote on a bill immediately after the hearing. For contact information for the senators who will hear SB 741-FN, see the “email entire committee” link on the Senate HHS committee’s information page.

The two bills are not in competition with each other. If the House turns down its version, the Senate might still approve its own – and yes, that’s optimistic, but it’s a way to ensure that the public has at least two chances to call for statutory protection for children who survive attempted abortion. Opposition to infanticide shouldn’t be a tough call.

Thereby hangs a cautionary tale.

White coats at the House hearing

(Corrected 2/3/2020 to show correct surname of ACOG representative.)

What can senators expect to hear on February 4? Consider what happened at the House committee hearing on HB 1675. (I’ll drop the “FN” for the remainder of this post; it means “fiscal note” and has no bearing on the bill’s underlying subject matter.)

The Union Leader’s Kevin Landrigan wrote about “four” abortion bills that had hearings on January 29 – although one of those bills, HB 1675, was about children already born and thus was not an abortion bill. Mr. Landrigan’s story included a photo he took at a press conference held by abortion advocates that day.

abortion press conference
photo by Kevin Landrigan/Union Leader

Tucked in between pink-clad PP supporters and red-clad “handmaidens” were several women in white coats. I learned at the born-alive hearing that they were medical doctors and medical students with coats embroidered with Dartmouth Hitchcock emblems.

The white-coated women drew no distinction among the four bills reported upon by Mr. Landrigan. I was at the born-alive hearing, and I saw they were there to oppose that bill – a bill that would impose upon them a specific duty to care for newborn children who have survived attempted abortion, with penalties for failure to do so.

One of the women in white was identified in the Union Leader story as Dr. Ellen Joyce, chair of the state chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. According my notes from the hearing, she called the born-alive bill “dangerous” and “ill-advised,” said it “seeks to solve a problem that does not exist,” and added that the legislation’s “false claims” tended to undermine the public’s trust in OB/GYNs.

I bit my tongue and forbore telling her that for me, that particular horse left the barn awhile ago. Trust, indeed.

No abortion survivors were present to challenge the “false claims” narrative. Their advocates showed up, though.

“I’m here today for Gianna Jessen.”

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien (R-Derry), drew the committee’s attention to the text of her bill, calling only for “medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment” for infants who survive abortion. She cited Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen as two survivors. Are there survivors in New Hampshire? “We can’t know that there are not,” she said. New Hampshire doesn’t provide the Centers for Disease Control with any abortion data, including post-abortion complications, and surely a surviving child would be a statistical complication. The sponsor asked that since we don’t know if there are abortion survivors here, why not err on the side of life?

Ohden and Jessen have made it into this blog before. For many years, they have been very open about how they were not-quite aborted. They know that some children are born alive after attempted abortion, because that’s how they were born. Ohden founded the Abortion Survivors’ Network, and now more than 260 people have shared with her their own stories of abortion survival.

Rep. Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack) picked up that theme: “I’m here today for Gianna Jessen.” She got the same question as did Rep. Prudhomme-O’Brien: does it happen here? She reminded the committee of what the sponsor had said: we can’t know, under New Hampshire’s current no-stats-to-the-CDC policy. She noted the plethora of animal rights bills being considered by the House this session, and suggested that human babies deserve as much consideration.

Plenty of people testified in favor of the bill, even as various committee members played their favorite card repeatedly: what makes you think this happens in New Hampshire? Toward the end of the hearing, after the ACOG representative had testified, I heard a supporter of the bill cut short by a committee member, who shifted from question to statement: we’ve had medical testimony that this doesn’t happen.

From now on, whenever I hear an abortion advocate saying “trust women,” I’m going to remember the women in white from the hearing on HB 1675. I’ll also remember Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen. The survivors simply have more credibility with me.

Perhaps only meeting survivors in person will ever win over white-coated women who take time away from work and school to argue against a bill to protect newborns who are born despite efforts to abort them. Maybe only a survivor can win over a skeptical legislator.

Until then, I’m glad to know there are legislators willing to be advocates for survivors who can’t be at the State House to plead their own cause.

Born-alive legislation is irrelevant to Roe v. Wade. It addresses a situation that occurs after a woman exercises choice. It does not affect an abortion provider’s rightful duty to care for the woman undergoing an abortion. It’s about infanticide. And still, here in New Hampshire, the prospect of a born-alive law scares some people senseless.

It’s as though some of the people in the hearing room were afraid that care is a zero-sum thing, and that any care given to an abortion-survivor newborn must necessarily mean less care, even contempt, for the woman whose pregnancy has just been terminated.

Anyone ready for a paradigm shift?

Hearings, then votes

The House Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on HB 1675. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee is free to vote on SB 741 immediately after its hearing on February 4, although a delay is possible. Dates for votes in the full House and Senate will be determined after the committees make their recommendations.