Senate Bill 319 is on its way to the New Hampshire House after sailing through the Senate February 19 on a 15-9 vote. Abortion advocates are one step closer to getting a 25-foot First-Amendment-free zone around abortion facilities.
First, the names. A couple of weeks ago, I guessed the vote would be 14-10. I was off by one, as Republican John Reagan came out in support of the bill.
Voting in favor of the buffer zone bill, SB 319, which would restrict peaceful witness at abortion facilities:
Voting against SB 319:
How the debate went down
Sponsor Donna Soucy said in the floor debate that this is about “balance” and “a fine line” accommodating public safety, patient privacy, and First Amendment rights. Sen. Sharon Carson courteously asked Sen. Soucy if any cases had been filed in New Hampshire under the federal clinic-access law. Sen. Soucy did not know the answer. Sen. Carson later told me the answer: none. Another senator privately told a colleague of mine that his decision to vote against the bill came after he contacted police chiefs in the towns where abortion facilities are located, and learned that there hasn’t been a law enforcement issue.
About that: A Planned Parenthood lobbyist testified at the committee hearing a few weeks back that PP had 60 complaints from patients about people outside the Manchester PP facility. How many of those complaints were about the mere presence of people praying, as opposed to complaints about someone being verbally abusive or physically threatening, remains unknown to the public – and perhaps to the senators as well.
Senator Carson was splendid in the floor debate, albeit in a losing cause. She did her Londonderry constituents proud with a defense of the First Amendment that sorely needed to be made. She warned her colleagues of SB 319’s overbreadth. She yields to no one in her concern for public safety, but she doesn’t see how SB 319 would enhance that safety. She also firmly believes any “buffer” legislation is premature while the Massachusetts buffer zone case is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hat tip to Senator Sam Cataldo, too. He moved to table SB 319, but as soon as that motion failed he moved “inexpedient to legislate” and made a brief statement against the bill. That motion was soon defeated as well, and then it was on with the “ought to pass” motion that attracted 15 votes.
House and Senate will take next week off. House action resumes the week of March 3, and a committee hearing on SB 319 could come anytime after that.
If passed, Governor Maggie Hassan intends to sign the bill into law. The effective date would be January 1, 2015, unless the bill is amended.