This week’s hearings, part 2: buffer zone repeal

“The cloud of litigation has been cleared,” according to Senator Donna Soucy, in a letter from her to the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Karen Ebel read the senator’s letter into the record during a February 1  hearing on repeal of the buffer zone law, of which Soucy was the prime sponsor in 2014.

The litigation of which Soucy wrote is Reddy v. Foster. She considers it “cleared” because of the recent First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmation that challenges to the buffer zone law are premature since the law has not yet been enforced.

No pro-life witnesses standing or walking peacefully outside an abortion facility in New Hampshire have been arrested or cited under the buffer zone law, and that clears the way to enforcing the law. Got that?

“We will begin to work with police and law enforcement”

Senator Soucy’s letter was in opposition to HB 589, the third repeal attempt to be introduced since the law was signed. The testimony on both sides was familiar to anyone who has attended hearings on the earlier repeal efforts. One thing was new: the hints from Senator Soucy and Planned Parenthood Action Fund lobbyist Kayla Montgomery that the zones are on the way – since, after all, “the cloud of litigation has been cleared.”

In response to Rep. Claire Rouillard’s question about whether zones had been posted outside any abortion facilities yet, Montgomery replied, “We will begin to work with police and law enforcement to see what’s best for each community.”

That’s a grim hoot. Regardless of anything police might say, neither they or any other municipal or state authority can prevent an abortion facility manager from posting a buffer zone, within which First Amendment rights on public property are abrogated. The law delegates that right to the abortion facility.

When the buffer zone law was still a bill and got its executive session in front of this Judiciary committee, then-Rep. Robert Rowe suggested to his colleagues that the bill include a provision for, at a minimum, some kind of public hearing before a zone could go up. His colleagues rejected the idea so firmly that Rowe didn’t even bring forward a formal motion. “Too much local control,” said one Judiciary member who has since left the House.  “Don’t give a local board the power to override state statute,” said Rep. Timothy Horrigan at the time; he is still on Judiciary.

So go ahead, law enforcement officials, and let yourself be worked with. Just please don’t kid yourself that you play a substantive role in the creation of the zones you’ll be called upon to enforce.


PP greeter describes frightening incident; were police called?

At this week’s hearing, a volunteer greeter from Planned Parenthood in Manchester testified against repeal. She made it clear she was testifying for herself, not for PPNNE. She described an unsettling incident where she witnessed a client surrounded and blocked by what she called pro-life protesters, temporarily preventing the client from entering the building. Scary, no doubt – at least that’s how I’d feel in such a situation. I’d call the cops.

Was that done in the situation described by the greeter? She had witnessed a blockade – a citable offense, however brief – and she was concerned for the patients’ safety. She must have known that PP’s Manchester office has cameras trained on the sidewalk, possibly capturing the incident and making prosecution easier. So were the police called?

She didn’t say.

Massachusetts abortion providers learned the hard way what happens when buffer zone laws are imposed before existing laws against harassment, disorderly conduct, or criminal threatening are enforced.

I am sure that the greeter who testified wasn’t making up the story. As I listened to her, though, it occurred to me that in some contexts, where a person is being threatened with harm, someone who sees that and fails to report it to authorities is subject to prosecution. This is certainly the case where children and vulnerable elders are concerned. Healthy, unimpaired adults don’t get the same protection, since the law assumes such adults can call for help themselves.

I am left wondering why any New Hampshire health care provider, or an agent of that provider, who believes clients are being threatened does not call police to deal with the threat.

Video, and the fear of it

The PP greeter said she recently saw someone she identified as a pro-lifer on the sidewalk wearing a webcam. That scared her. She’s worried about privacy. She doesn’t want herself or PP’s clients or employees being shown on someone else’s social media.

I understand her concern. There are two ways of looking at video, though. She saw the webcam as a threat, something offensive. There were other cameras present she didn’t talk about, mounted on the PP building in Manchester. Did she see those as a threat to privacy? Not likely. She probably considers them a defensive measure.

Rep. Kathy Souza reminded the committee at the hearing that Manchester’s PP has those sidewalk cameras, and video of sidewalk activity is available to legislators and law enforcement officials.

Have the committee members seen any such videos? Will they seek them out or consider them relevant? We don’t know.

Since the passage of the buffer zone law, I’ve participated in 40 Days for Life campaigns at various locations. I never come to a vigil without a camera of some kind, usually the one on my phone. I have it as a defensive measure. I often keep vigil alone during 40DFL (which is a terrible idea, but that’s one consequence of taking the 7 a.m. shift). If there is any incident on the public sidewalk that threatens me or appears to be threatening anyone else, I am going to do two things: call 911, and use the camera to document whatever I can.  A commitment to nonviolence doesn’t equate to a commitment to leave my phone and its camera at home.

To me, that’s playing defense. To any person whose actions I might document, it would look like offense.

Was defense the reason why the man spotted by the greeter was wearing a webcam? I don’t know, and neither does she.  If he were to be a person whose camera was meant as a tool of intimidation and invasion of privacy, no buffer zone law would deter him. He’d just step out of the zone (“up to” 25 feet away, per the law) and invest in a zoom lens, and keep right on filming – until someone calls the police to enforce existing laws against harassment and threatening.

Which brings us back to buffer zone repeal. The purported need for a New Hampshire buffer zone law was and is unsupported by any law enforcement records from recent years. Peaceful pro-life witnesses have not drawn attention from law enforcement – and anyone determined to commit violence is not going to be deterred by the presence or absence of a few signs.

That’s just as sobering a thought for the people on the sidewalks as it is for the people using the “buffered” facilities.

What would genuine concern for safety look like?

Can the state of New Hampshire delegate to private entities the right to control First Amendment activities on public sidewalks and rights-of-way?

The buffer zone law does not require those private entities – the abortion providers – to prove any danger or threat before posting a zone. Providers could post one simply because they don’t like the presence of silent pro-life demonstrators or peaceful sidewalk counselors.

That’s how we know that the buffer zone law is not about protecting anyone’s safety.

An abortion provider concerned about patient safety would call law enforcement without hesitation, with or without a buffer zone in place, anytime a patient expressed fear about sidewalk activity. (Such a provider would also welcome more scrutiny from public health officials, but that’s another story.) That hasn’t been happening.

The sponsors of this year’s buffer zone repeal bill know this. They are doing their best to make the case that protecting people in and around abortion facilities is going to mean enforcing laws that were in place long before Senator Soucy started buffering things.

Notes from the latest buffer zone repeal hearing

Michael Tierney and Joan Espinola (standing) wait to testify on HB 1570. (photo by Ellen Kolb)
Michael Tierney and Joan Espinola (standing) wait to testify on HB 1570. (photo by Ellen Kolb)

The New Hampshire Senate Health and Human Services committee had to change rooms twice yesterday to find a place with enough seats for the public. About 40 minutes past its scheduled time, the hearing on HB 1570 began, and buffer zone repeal was up for discussion. Will New Hampshire continue to have a law on the books that allows abortion facility operators to determine where and when First Amendment rights may be exercised on public property?

Committee members kept their questions to a minimum, no doubt mindful of the clock. No vote was taken yesterday; action is likely to come soon. There will be a few days’ notice before any Senate floor vote.

In brief, the hearing produced nothing new or shocking. Any information or persuasion that’s going to budge a senator is going to come from private communication. Remember, repeal was tabled after a tie vote in the Senate last year – and remember who voted how.


 


Here are some notes on this week’s hearing, with my thanks to Jennifer Robidoux who shared her own notes with me after I had to leave the hearing early. This does not mention everyone who testified.

  • Committee members present were Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford), Kevin Avard (R-Nashua), Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), and Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth). Committee member Molly Kelly (D-Harrisville) was absent.  If you wish to contact the committee members to let them know it’s time to pass HB 1570 and get rid of the buffer zone, you should do so soon. Contact information is on the Senate web page. If you send an email, put “yes on HB 1570” or something similar in the subject line.
  • There was no organized demonstration of any kind outside the hearing.
  • There was no testimony from any municipal or law enforcement official.
  • The recent dismissal of the Reddy v. Foster case was mentioned by nearly everyone who testified. Interpretations varied.
  • Rep. J.R. Hoell, chief sponsor of the repeal bill, reminded the senators that the House has voted twice for repeal (2015 and 2016). He said the situation of having an unenforced law like the buffer zone on the books was “silliness at best.”
  • Cathy Kelley, who is outside Planned Parenthood in Manchester every Thursday and who founded Pennacook Pregnancy Center, supported repeal. She defended her right to pray and to talk to people outside PP. She spoke of offering healing after abortion. “That’s compassion. That’s what we’re about.” Sue Clifton testified for repeal as well, remarking on ministry to abortion workers. “We pray for abortion workers. We love them all and we are there to offer help.”
  • Joan Espinola, a plaintiff in Reddy v. Foster, cited both the U.S. and New Hampshire Constitutions to argue for her freedom to be peacefully present outside abortion facilities. “we’re not out to harm anyone….The Constitution doesn’t give protection from unwanted speech.”
  • Fellow plaintiff Jennifer Robidoux pointed out that she is already “buffered” from abortion facility clients by private property (e.g. the stockade fence at the Pennacook Street Planned Parenthood); “this law buffers me from public property.”
  • Two state representatives strongly opposed to repeal made the claim that any zones, should they be enforced, would respect “local control.” (I have already held forth at some length on that point.)
  • Attorney MIchael Tierney, who represented plaintiffs in Reddy v. Foster, told the committee that there are already laws on the books against harassment, blockade, and violence.  About that: I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders why abortion facility managers don’t call on police to enforce those laws – assuming those laws are being violated.
  • Senator Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), as she has done since introducing the buffer zone bill in 2014,  claimed repeatedly that the New Hampshire buffer zone law is substantively different from the Massachusetts law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley, in that the old Massachusetts law set a firm 35-foot zone while the New Hampshire law allows a zone “up to 25 feet.” Senator Soucy makes this claim despite the fact that the Supreme Court did not use zone size as a factor in striking down the Massachusetts law.
  • The our-law-is-different-from-Massachusetts claim was also made to the committee by the representative of Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, Kayla McCarthy. She cited an increased “volume” of protests without giving any details, which she might have submitted to the committee in writing.
  • The New Hampshire Medical Society registered its opposition to buffer zone repeal. So did the New Hampshire Public Health Association, whose spokesman said that the buffer zone law “does not impede protesting in a respectful manner.”

Buffer zone repeal battle coming to N.H. House after 11-9 committee vote

Opponents of New Hampshire’s court-enjoined buffer zone law eked out a narrow victory when the House Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 this week to recommend repeal. The repeal bill, HB 1570, now goes to the full House for action on March 8 or 9, with a floor fight all but certain.

buffer zone repeal

According to Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford), writing in support of the Judiciary Committee majority’s Ought to Pass (OTP) recommendation, “The majority believes the current law is an unconstitutional restriction on the people’s right to freedom of speech and access to public property. Keeping the law commits the state to years of legal expense defending a law that purports to resolve a problem never substantiated by any documented offense.”

Shortly after the buffer zone law was signed by Governor Maggie Hassan in 2014, it was challenged by seven New Hampshire pro-life activists in the case Reddy v. Foster. A federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law. The case is still open.

Rep. David Woodbury (D-New Boston) of the Judiciary Committee wrote for the minority, urging that the bill be found inexpedient to legislate. “The statute is dissimilar to a Massachusetts statute found unconstitutional in 2014 because the buffer zone is smaller and subject to modification as conditions require. The statute strikes a fair balance between the interests of these lawfully using the sidewalks and access ways and those wishing to express their opposition to the abortion procedure. The statute is on hold until the federal court rules and should not be repealed, if at all, until the court rules.”

The Massachusetts statute was struck down by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court (McCullen v. Coakley) not because of the size of the Massachusetts “buffer,” but because the statute violated the First Amendment without less-restrictive means having first been used to address alleged problems caused by peaceful pro-life presence outside abortion facilities. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in McCullen, 

“Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi­tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.”

The New Hampshire law does differ from the struck-down Massachusetts law in an important respect, not noted by Rep. Woodbury: the New Hampshire measure delegates to abortion providers the authority to determine a buffer zone’s size, placement, and enforcement hours.

Find contact information for your representatives here.


NH buffer zone repeal bill has zone backers looking for cover

The yet-unenforced New Hampshire buffer zone law rammed through the legislature by abortion advocates last year has become politically and legally toxic – so much so that its biggest boosters are asking legislators to fix the mess they made last year. Senator Donna Soucy and Planned Parenthood lobbyist Jennifer Frizzell testified before the House Judiciary Committee last week, arguing that any flaws in the law can be fixed.

The fifteen co-sponsors of House Bill 403 have a better idea: repeal the law altogether.

Supporters of the repeal bill filled the Judiciary Committee’s hearing room a few days ago, and so many of them wanted to testify that the morning’s hearing was carried over to the afternoon. Chief sponsor Kathy Souza of Manchester called the buffer law law “an affront to our state and our state’s motto and our Constitution,”  and she reminded the committee that with the Reddy v. Foster lawsuit pending, “it could cost the state a lot of money quite unnecessarily.”


 

Still no police logs to back up claims that a buffer is needed

Souza (not to be confused with Sen. Soucy) of Manchester arrived at the hearing with an email she had received within the hour from the Manchester police department, reporting the most recent logs available on police calls to the Manchester Planned Parenthood facility. As was the case with earlier logs submitted into testimony when the buffer zone was moving towards passage, these logs showed no evidence of violence or even disruptive behavior resulting in an arrest at that location.

Souza read aloud from the logs she had just received about calls to 24 Pennacook Street: “alarm activation, forgery, sex assault, parking complaints, and an accident. Nothing to do with protesters.”

Frizzell explained the lack of police reports by saying “Moving forward with a complaint requires giving up one’s own privacy … Clearly, we had many patients that wanted to be part of contributing to a solution who weren’t ready to press charges with law enforcement.”

The Supreme Court & the Massachusetts case

As for the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision throwing out the Massachusetts buffer zone law on which the New Hampshire law is based, neither Soucy nor Frizzell find it persuasive. Soucy, chief sponsor of the buffer zone bill, said that when she introduced what became the law, she was “very mindful of the fact that there was a U.S. Supreme Court appeal [McCullen v. Coakley] pending regarding the Massachusetts law.”

She denies that the New Hampshire law is similar enough to the unconstitutional Massachusetts law, specifying two differences: the New Hampshire law has an “up to 25-foot” zone, where Massachusetts had a 35-foot buffer; and New Hampshire’s law has a “posting” requirement whereby the law isn’t enforced in the absence of buffer-zone signs around abortion facilities.

Soucy, an attorney, omitted from her testimony the principal reason the Court gave for striking down the Massachusetts law. It had nothing to do with signs or the size of the zone. The Massachusetts law could not survive because it impermissibly infringed on First Amendment rights. From Justice Roberts’s decision in McCullen: “…here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests [of balancing the rights of patients and demonstrators] by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi­tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.”

Which brings us back to the police logs in Manchester and all the other communities hosting New Hampshire abortion providers: within the past few years, there is no police evidence of a pattern of threats or intimidation at any New Hampshire facility. In order for the New Hampshire buffer zone law to be constitutional in accordance with Justice Roberts’s decision, there must first be a documented problem with demonstrators at an abortion facility. Then, before the draconian step of nullifying the First Amendment in the vicinity of an abortion facility, existing less-drastic laws must be used first: laws against disorderly conduct, for example.

“Flies in the face of the First Amendment”

“This [law] not only flies in the face of the First Amendment; it also violates our [New Hampshire] constitution,” Souza testified. “Our constitution takes very seriously our First Amendment rights. We’re the Live Free or Die state. I think it’s a blight on our legislative landscape to have a bill that was in essence ruled a violation of our First Amendment rights. If we think we’re Live Free or Die, we should make it a priority to get this law off our books.”

Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry agreed, calling repeal “a no-brainer. When somebody is out there at a rally, not assaulting anyone, not causing damage, not being out in the street so they’re breaking the laws, I think we owe it to [them] not [to] shut down anyone’s right to protest in those areas, whether you support abortions or not.”

Rep. Dan Itse of Fremont testified in favor of repeal, and he faced questioning from committee member Rep. Paul Berch, who asked “Do you support people being intimidated when they are performing activities that are legal?” “Of course not,” replied Itse. “And I would suspect we have laws against disturbing the public peace. If our laws regarding disturbing the public peace are not adequate, I suggest we make them adequate.”

Rep. JR Hoell of Dunbarton brought up a point not addressed by other speakers: “We violated our [state] constitution on quorum rules” on a tabling motion for the buffer zone bill before it eventually passed. “This bill should never have become law.” Hoell said that the quorum problem, coupled with the lawsuit against the buffer zone, makes repeal “a slam-dunk.”

“I didn’t think that you would even consider not repealing this bill,” said Rep. Jeanine Notter of Merrimack to the committee, “after hearing about the lawsuit and how much it could cost the state – just please do the right thing and just repeal this buffer zone.”

Buffer zone sponsor: “I’d ask you to work with us”

All the speakers at the hearing, pro- and anti-repeal, acknowledged the current stay that is preventing enforcement of New Hampshire’s buffer zone law. Repeal proponents consider this a good reason for getting rid of the law, while those opposing repeal are now suggesting that the delay might allow for tinkering with the law.

Frizzell to the committee: “It does seem to me and to Planned Parenthood that the law on the books as it sits under injunction is not doing any good addressing the concerns that we had where we brought forward. So in your deliberation of whether to let it stand, or whether to repeal it, I would be interested in talking to the committee about some more pragmatic ways that New Hampshire’s law could be enforced.” Anything but repeal, she seemed to be saying.

Soucy concurred. “Repeal of this law in and of itself is a mistake. To the extent there is concern over a particular aspect of the bill, I’d ask you to work with those who continue to face threatening and intimidation. The problem that I brought before this legislature last year is an ongoing problem. It’s one that persists.”

Committee action expected within a week

Committee chairman Robert Rowe expects a committee vote on the bill before the House break the last week of February. Repeal opponents are likely to continue lobbying for adjustments to the existing law. What they didn’t lobby for at the hearing: leaving the law alone. We have the seven plaintiffs in Reddy v. Foster to thank for that.


Activists of the year, and other 2014 highlights

It’s my good fortune as a pro-life blogger to meet amazing and inspirational people in the course of my travels throughout New Hampshire. With gratitude, I recognize a few of them here, along with some notable 2014 happenings.

Activists of the year: the “buffer zone” challengers

Honorable mention: the family of Griffin Donald Kenison

Honorable mention: NH’s 40 Days for Life teams

The buffer zone challengers

The ill-advised passage of a law to nullify the First Amendment within “up to 25 feet” of New Hampshire abortion facilities – with the precise perimeter to be left up to the discretion of abortion providers – forced pro-life citizens to turn to the courts for relief. Seven people, represented by pro-life and pro-First-Amendment attorneys, are taking up the challenge.

Michael Tierney (facebook.com photo)
Michael Tierney (facebook.com photo)

For the third year in a row, Manchester attorney Michael Tierney has made his way onto my end-of-the-year highlight reel. This year, he is representing the seven plaintiffs in Reddy v. Foster, seeking to have the “buffer zone” law overturned. Tierney, along with attorneys Michael DePrimo and Mark Rienzi, is working with Alliance Defending Freedom to vindicate the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities.

Each plaintiff is exceptional, quite independent of this court case. All other gifts and callings to one side, though, they are committed to the dignity of every pregnant woman and preborn child. They have courage to live out that message in prayer on the abortion facilities’ sidewalks. They have the guts to challenge the state government, which includes a governor, attorney general, fourteen senators and 162 House members who ought to be ashamed of themselves. The plaintiffs are Sister Mary Rose Reddy, Sue Clifton, Jennifer Robidoux, Joan Espinola, Terry Barnum, Jackie Pelletier, and Betty Buzzell.

A lie was repeated over and over during testimony in support of the now-challenged law: any pro-life presence outside an abortion facility is in itself an act of violence, no different in nature than a physical assault on abortion-minded women and abortion workers. Nothing short of a buffer zone law could protect “safety and balance,” as sponsor Sen. Donna Soucy calmly intoned at each hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that claim when in June it threw out the Massachusetts law on which the New Hampshire law was based, saying that when less-restrictive laws have not yet been enforced outside abortion facilities (laws like disorderly conduct, for example), nullification of the First Amendment cannot be tolerated. Governor Maggie Hassan signed New Hampshire’s law after the Supreme Court decision, underscoring the radical pro-abortion extremism that animated the law’s supporters.

The seven challengers to the law are quietly putting extremists on notice: peaceful pro-life witness is here to stay.

The Kenison and Rideout families

The efforts by the family of little Griffin Kenison to get fetal homicide legislation enacted were nothing short of awesome.

Rep. Leon Rideout (facebook.com/rideout4rep)
Rep. Leon Rideout (facebook.com/rideout4rep)

When a woman loses a wanted pregnancy because of the actions of a negligent or impaired driver, or an abusive partner, or any other kind of assault, must the preborn child’s assailant answer to the community via criminal law? More than three dozen states say yes, in the form of fetal homicide laws. Those laws, the provisions of which vary somewhat from state to state, call for charges not only for injury of death to the woman, but for the death of her preborn child as well.

New Hampshire is not one of those states. Several times in the past twenty years, fetal homicide legislation has been introduced in Concord. It came close to passage in 2012, falling to a veto by then-Governor John Lynch. This year, another bill was introduced. This time, it was personal: Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster called his bill “Griffin’s Law” in honor of his grandson. Rideout’s daughter Ashlyn was 7½ months pregnant when an automobile collision forced her child’s premature delivery. The child, Griffin, could not survive his injuries sustained in the collision. The driver responsible for the collision faced no charge in the child’s death.

Griffin’s extended family trooped down to Concord from New Hampshire’s North Country for hearings and floor votes. They wore t-shirts and distributed ribbons in Griffin’s honor. Griffin’s parents, Ashlyn Rideout and Daniel Kenison, sat quietly with Ashlyn’s mother Cora and listened as Rep. Rideout testified. Grandmother Shirley Kenison Ward delivered powerful, memorable testimony. I don’t have all the names of the family members who were there, but I honor each one of those people who came to remember Griffin. They came from a distance, taking time off work, speaking volumes with their very presence.

Those voices fell on too many ears attuned to the testimony of abortion advocates. This is not an abortion bill. It refers only to wanted pregnancies. One might think that being pro-choice would include respecting a woman’s choice to carry a child to term. Not really, apparently. Abortion advocates perceive threats to Roe v. Wade where none exist – extremism warps one’s view – and they fought Griffin’s Law, saying that recognizing Griffin as a child would somehow compromise abortion rights. The legislative class of 2012 was amenable to that nonsense.

The legislators elected in 2014 have a chance to rectify things. Griffin’s Law is back for 2015, once again sponsored by Rep. Rideout. The makeup of the legislature has changed. Governor Hassan just might find this one on her desk. It’ll be foolish to bet against a fetal homicide law if the Kenisons and Rideouts persist in what grandmother Shirley called “a crusade.”

The 40 Days for Life teams

40DFL volunteers in Greenland, NH
40DFL volunteers in Greenland, NH

Dianne Braley in Greenland and Jennifer Robidoux in Manchester led 40 Days for Life campaigns this year. There’s no question in my mind that the push for the buffer zone law had a chilling effect on pro-life witness in our state. These women went ahead in faith anyway, each bringing together a supportive leadership team to see the campaigns through. (Yes, that’s the same Jennifer Robidoux who’s a plaintiff in the buffer zone suit.)

In a political atmosphere of pronounced hostility to peaceful pro-life witness, Dianne and Jen simply went about their business of recruiting people to stand outside Planned Parenthood or the Lovering abortion facility to pray for an hour at a time. The threefold mission of 40DFL is prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil, and community outreach, and New Hampshire’s teams did their best to carry those out in a year when abortion advocates came close to banning legal, peaceful, non-obstructive demonstration where abortions are done. In the face of this atmosphere and the excessive caution it provoked in some circles, Dianne and Jen remained true to 40DFL’s mission and commitment. Their teams deserve just as much credit.

Most unexpected pro-life victory

From www.supremecourt.gov
From www.supremecourt.gov

Who expects anything constructive from the U.S. Supreme Court nowadays? One always hopes, of course – but expectation, not so much.

Imagine my surprise when not one but two major decisions came down on the pro-life side. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court rejected Massachusetts’ buffer zone law on a narrow basis: since existing laws hadn’t yet been used against pro-life witnesses, it was inappropriate to pass a new law with the drastic effect of squelching First Amendment rights. Massachusetts has since passed a new buffer zone law, in line with the Court’s warning.

And then there’s the Hobby Lobby decision. The McCullen decision was received fairly quietly by abortion advocates, mostly because they were still screaming over Hobby Lobby. It’s official: owners of a privately-held company who have religious objections to certain forms of “contraception” – in this case, abortion-triggering drugs and devices – may not be compelled to help pay for or provide those devices to employees. It was an extremely narrow ruling, but it upheld the religious liberty of the owners of Hobby Lobby.Take that, Obamacare.

Abortion advocates went into overdrive, and in the process they abandoned any pretense of believing that abortion is different from birth control (which has implications for future legislation and litigation on abortion funding). “#notmybossbusiness” became the hashtag of the day, as extremists as usual seized the PR advantage over defenders of religious liberty. They claimed that any boss who refuses to violate her conscience by providing employee insurance coverage for abortifacients is actually making medical decisions for the employee. The abortion advocates are concerned about the other Obamacare lawsuits in the pipeline from other entities, including religious institutions and publicly-traded companies.

Conscience rights? Still under assault.

Best decision by a candidate

Karen Testerman: "Life is not an issue; it's a fundamental principle. There should be no question about it."
Karen Testerman at Women for Bob Smith rally: “Life is not an issue; it’s a fundamental principle. There should be no question about it.”

Karen Testerman wanted to be the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate. She started early, campaigned hard within the conservative base, and brought her message to GOP committees statewide. Former Senator Bob Smith was in the race as well, with eighteen years of Senate seniority in his back pocket and a long record of pro-life votes in Washington. In an act both savvy and gracious – two things that often go by the boards in campaign season – Karen decided to bow out in favor of Sen. Smith. She didn’t just drop out of the race and go home. She declared her support for Smith very publicly, standing with him in the State House. She campaigned as tirelessly for him as she had for herself. She was determined not to split the pro-life vote.

We all know the epilogue: Scott Brown entered the race, bolstered by legacy Republicans. The self-proclaimed pro-choicer Brown managed a hair under 50% in the nine-way GOP primary. Sen. Smith earned 23%, far more than most pundits expected. Brown went on to lose to incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. But this isn’t about “worst decisions by a candidate,” so let’s move on.

Most encouraging election result

The New Hampshire House lost a lot of its abortion supporters and assisted-suicide advocates in November. That’s a net win for the people of New Hampshire, even with newly-elected reps who are keeping their life-issue inclinations to themselves for now.

NH pro-life event & speaker of the year

Julia Holcomb, Silent No More
Julia Holcomb, Silent No More

A most subjective category, to be sure – but can anyone seriously challenge Julia Holcomb of Silent No More as the most compelling speaker at any New Hampshire event this year? New Hampshire Right to Life’s annual banquet was the venue for an exceptional evening. Holcomb’s story of being coerced into a late-term saline abortion at age 17 is unforgettable. As I wrote at the time, “It’s tough to take phrases like ‘choice’ and ‘reproductive justice’ seriously after hearing from Julia Holcomb. Slogans fade away in the face of a woman speaking with such courage and honesty.”

Honorable mention: The rally for life organized by Women for Bob Smith brought together candidates for local, state and federal offices, some of whom had little to no name recognition among pro-life voters until they spoke that day on the State House plaza. Andrew Hemingway, GOP primary candidate for governor, summed it up in his remarks about the right to life: “Is there any other greater cause? No. This is it. The pinnacle. You must take the energy from this day and move this cause forward.” Move the cause forward. With encouragement and inspiration like this, why not?