December 30, 2013LANCASTER — Rep. Leon Rideout, a freshman Republican of Lancaster who represents the sprawling floterial Coös District 7 in which over 6,500 voters cast ballots in 2012, is the prime sponsor of Griffin's Law — a bill that he believes would provide justice for an unborn baby killed in an assault or accident.
"This issue found me," Rideout explained in a Saturday morning interview. "This isn't something that I looked for; it wasn't an issue for me; it's not something that I found — or would have chosen."
Ashlyn Rideout, the state rep.'s 22-year-old daughter who was then seven-and-a-half or eight months pregnant with her second son, was a victim in an auto accident on June 4 on Route 3 in Stratford.
That unborn child did not survive the crash allegedly caused by the 17-year-old driver of another vehicle.
Apparently traveling at a high rate of speed and possibly ignoring a stop sign, that driver broadsided Ashlyn's car, causing serious injuries and deploying an airbag.
"It was a violent crash, and we're very lucky she survived and is alive," Rideout said.
Ashlyn was taken to the Littleton Regional Hospital, in which the nearest maternity-obstetrical unit is located.
Doctors there hoped to airlift her to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, but when their efforts to stabilize her were unsuccessful, an emergency Caesarian-section delivery was performed that did not result in a live birth.
Ashlyn and the unborn baby's father, Dan Kenison, a Groveton native, lost their child who they had been joyfully expecting, early on naming him Griffin Donald Kenison.
Fortunately, their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Grady, was not injured; he was in a child safety seat properly installed in the back seat.
Because of the injuries that Ashlyn Rideout suffered, the state police recently charged the young driver with vehicular assault.
But because New Hampshire does not have a law that can be applied to this situation, the driver cannot be charged with the death of the unborn child.
"That there is no justice is an added assault," Rideout said. "We lost a child who was loved and cared for and whose birth was wanted, but there is no recourse. Basically New Hampshire says he didn't exist."
When asked whether he had been aware that an unborn baby is not covered under New Hampshire law before the death of his unborn grandson, Rideout replied, "No, I was surprised and dismayed; it was a wake-up call."
The legislation he has filed, Rideout said, is carefully written to avoid any attempt to change the state's abortion law and specifically excludes abortion.
"I'm pro-life (opposed to abortion), but I don't think we can overturn Roe v. Wade, and I'm not out to overturn Roe v. Wade," he said.
Griffin's Law is written to apply to an unborn child eight weeks after conception, Rideout said, adding that he had chosen that time because miscarriages are quite common before then and less so afterwards. Griffin's Law would permit prosecutions when an unborn child is killed that a mother has chosen to keep. It specifically excludes any culpability of a mother in the death of her unborn child, he explained.
Rideout sees Griffin's Law as another step in a continuum of events that have raised awareness of what he calls the lack of protection for unborn children in New Hampshire.
Two years ago, legislation similar to Griffin's Law passed by a big margin in both the House and Senate, but then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill, and an override effort failed. Rideout explained that he has carefully read Lynch's veto message and believes that Griffin's Law avoids the issues about which Lynch was concerned.
Another recent death of an unborn child in an auto accident has also re-focused attention on the state's lack of a law to address this issue, Rideout said. Sunapee resident Robert Dellinger has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the horrific collision on I-89 on Dec. 7 in Lebanon in which Vermont residents Amanda Murphy, 24, who was eight months pregnant, and Jason Timmons, 29, both died. Dellinger allegedly was trying to kill himself. The charges were originally for manslaughter.
Prosecutors could not charge Dellinger with taking the life of the unborn child, whose parents had already lovingly named her Reagan Elizabeth, because New Hampshire law does not provide for that.
In April 2009, the state Supreme Court issued a 14-page ruling in the Joshua Lamy case, which among other issues involved the death of an unborn child in an auto accident whose mother was eight months pregnant.
The Court traced the history of English common law that became part of American law that said that a live birth must have taken place in order for criminal charges to be brought.
After providing specifics on how the state legislature had handled this issue in recent years, the Court ruled: "The history of our homicide statutes demonstrates the legislature's intent to adopt and continue the application of the common law born alive rule in New Hampshire."
The Court also stated, however: "We recognize, as have many other courts, that the born alive doctrine may be an outdated anachronism often producing anomalous results. However, because the legislature explicitly chose to adopt the rule as statutory law, we cannot 'mold, change, [or] reverse' the doctrine as we could were it still common law.
"In cases of criminal law, '[i]t is the province of the legislature to enact laws defining crimes and to fix the degree, extent and method for punishment.' Should the legislature find the result in this case as unfortunate as we do, it should follow the lead of many other states and revisit the homicide statutes as they pertain to a fetus." [The complete ruling is available on the Internet; these excerpts do not include the Court's citations.]
Rideout agrees with the Court's conclusion and believes that Griffin's Law should be passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. It is too early to know when the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will schedule hearings.
When asked how his daughter Ashlyn is faring, Rideout replied that she supports his efforts to pass Griffin's Law. Both she and Dan would like to see something positive come out of the tragedy that befell them and their extended families, he said. Ashlyn continues to heal from her injuries, but she was able to return to her job this September as an elementary school para-educator in the Groveton Elementary School. She missed the last two weeks of work in June.
His older daughter, Jennifer, who teaches first-grade at the Lancaster Elementary School, was married this summer to Chris Caron. The couple was able to incorporate their love for Griffin into the day.