I’m in a somber mood on this Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a time of focused prayer and penitence. It’s not just the season itself. I have an email in front of me, written by a grandmother with a broken heart. My own heart aches for her whole family. She’s Shirley Kenison-Ward, who spoke so movingly a few weeks ago about “Griffin’s Law,” the bill that’s meant to give New Hampshire a fetal homicide law.
The House Criminal Justice committee voted to change the bill yesterday. Shirley was there to hear the discussion. She has no reason to be happy about the outcome. The committee majority basically threw out the fetal homicide bill and replaced it with a warning to would-be felons to be nice to pregnant women.
As amended, HB 1503 would double penalties on anyone convicted of a felony against a pregnant woman if that felony leads to miscarriage or stillbirth. Sounds impressive: doubling the penalty on a felony could mean decades added to a sentence. But first, there would have to be a felony conviction, and no separate charge would be possible for the death of the preborn child.
Shirley’s grandson Griffin, also the grandson of Rep. Leon Rideout, was born prematurely and subsequently died of his injuries after his mother was involved in an automobile collision. The driver responsible for the collision was not charged with a felony. A law like the one the Criminal Justice committee has just recommended would not apply in such a case.
I’ve not been able to confirm whether the identity of the driver in Griffin’s case is protected by juvenile justice statutes (he was 17 when the collision occurred last year), so I won’t use his name here. In any case, what Shirley Kenison-Ward wrote to me last night was an eye-opener.
I told you that [the driver] was charged with a stop sign violation. But just recently February 6th the State offered him a plea deal and he refused it. Judge Desjardin’s [sic] made the decision that [the driver] was free of any charges. This means that he was not fined, will not serve any jail time, or even a traffic ticket for killing my grandson. There is NO justice in NH. Please help us get the word out. We must make a difference.
Rep. Rideout was present at yesterday’s vote, and he made his distress clear to the committee. He would not be denied when he was warned he was out of order for standing up to speak. “I should be able to speak to this amendment because it guts the bill. I should have been consulted. This amendment leaves my daughter and Griffin out of Griffin’s Law.”
And what did the committee members say as they deliberated? Everyone who spoke prefaced remarks by expressing sympathy for the appalling loss Griffin’s family has sustained. Then came the speeches about how “difficult” this is and how judges have to look at “the total picture.” It was left to Rep. Latha Mangipudi (D-Nashua) to lift the veil for a peek at the elephant in the room: the resistance of abortion advocates to any law that sees a preborn child as something other than a mother’s property. She spoke hesitantly, choosing her words carefully. “It’s very unsettling for me to say, I mean, I see the intent [of the original bill], but we are addressing one aspect of fetus as person. That’s an undue burden. I’m very uncomfortable [with this], as a woman.”
Shirley Kenison-Ward could have swapped notes with Rep. Mangipudi at that point about how uncomfortable a woman can be.
Rep. Larry Gagne (R-Manchester) was torn. “I agree with Rep. Rideout. I will vote against this amendment.” He paused before going on to say, “If the amendment passes, I’ll support ought-to-pass-as-amended. I’d rather have two slices of bread now rather than lose the whole loaf.”
A few minutes later, the amendment was adopted and the bill was passed 10-7. The full House will vote on it later this month. Rep. Rideout is ready for a floor fight to get his original language back. He knows that will be an uphill battle.
As amended, Griffin’s Law no longer exists. The amendment might have merit as a feel-good bill – an expression of gallantry or chivalry towards pregnant women. Nothing about it makes killing a preborn child against the mother’s will a crime, though. For Shirley Kenison-Ward and Leon Rideout, chivalry isn’t enough. They want Griffin’s Law back.