Coös District 7 Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster testified on Feb. 3 before the House Criminal Justice Committee in favor of HB 1503 to amend the state's existing homicide law by adding "fetus" to the definition of a victim. His daughter Ashlyn, 2nd from left, seated, whose unborn child or fetus — Griffin Donald Kenison — was delivered by emergency Caesarian section on June 4, 2013, after an auto accident caused by another driver, Griffin's father, Danny Kenison, left, seated, his older daughter Jennifer Caron, and his wife, Cora, and other extended family members were in Concord to support his legislative efforts. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
February 12, 2014CONCORD — "This is not a women's issue; this is a family issue because the whole family suffers the impact," Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster said when he testified in favor of House Bill 1503 — "Griffin's Law" — on Tuesday, Feb. 4, before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Rideout, who represents a large swath of towns in floterial District Coös 7 that stretches from the Connecticut to the Androscoggin River, is the lead sponsor of a proposed amendment to an existing state law that covers murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide that would change it to include the death of an unborn child — referred to as a "fetus" — that takes place because of someone else's negligence or criminal act.
The freshman state rep's 22-year-old daughter, Ashlyn Rideout of Stratford, who was then 33 weeks pregnant, was in a serious traffic accident on June 4, 2013, on Route 3 in Stratford when another driver allegedly ran a stop sign. The fetus that she was carrying — already joyfully named Griffin Donald Kenison — was not born alive after being delivered by emergency Caesarian section.
Fortunately, her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Grady, who was riding in back seat in a child's safety seat, only sustained minor injuries.
Members of Rideout's extended family, as well as those of Griffin's dad, Groveton native Danny Kenison, were either on hand at the hearing or had sent written testimony to document the heart-breaking and ongoing sense of loss that they continue to experience because Griffin was never able to draw a single breath.
"The hole left in the family's life is indescribable," Rideout said.
He not only testified that his bill would bring justice and recognition to unborn children who are killed because of carelessness and recklessness but would also provide a remedy to New Hampshire's continued use of what he says is an out-of-date "born live" rule that, despite today's medical advances, is virtually the same as first devised in 14th century England.
Rideout explained that 38 other states, including many liberal "blue states" such as California and Massachusetts, have passed fetal homicide laws, crafted so that they do not criminalize either abortions or miscarriages.
"This law is not pro-choice or pro-life but is pro-family," explained Rideout, adding that passage of Griffin's Law would mean some good could come from his family's loss. "This is about a mother's choice to carry a child," he said.
In New Hampshire, Rideout lamented, there are now no consequences for someone responsible for the loss of an unborn baby "who is already part of the family." This inability to secure justice "multiplies the tragedy for a family who has suffered the loss of an unborn baby and further victimizes the family and mothers, " he said.
Grandmother Shirley Kenison-Ward of Piermont, who would have eight living grandchildren if Griffin had been able to withstand the accident's physical impact, testified that she had held in her arms "the lifeless, cold bundle of joy that is now in Heaven being rocked by his great grandparents. He didn't open his eyes on earth; he opened his eyes in Heaven."
But, Kenison-Ward pointed out, no charges have been brought — or can be brought — for the loss of Griffin's life. The driver was charged with vehicular assault only because of the severity of Ashlyn's injuries. "New Hampshire's current laws state that a child must take one breath on his own to be considered a life," she explained. "Our family has begun a crusade to change the current law in New Hampshire."
Leo Rideout Jr. of Lancaster remained standing when he testified that the proposed amendment was designed to hold people accountable for their actions and would provide justice in the future even though "nothing can make it right or our family."
Great-grandparents Donna and Roland Hopps of Bullhead City, Ariz., wrote a letter supporting HB 1503 that asks, "How many more innocent babies are going to be snuffed out, not to be recognized as a living, breathing soul? When these unfortunate events happen these little lives — these little human beings – need to be recognized and accounted for."
Several other state representatives spoke in favor of HB 1503.
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and NARAL opposed the bill, however, saying it would create a separate right for the unborn that would be used to erode the rights of women to make their own reproductive decisions.
"This bill makes a crime against a fetus separate from the harm of someone killed by criminal conduct," said NH Civil Liberties Union executive director Devon Chaffee. "When you have separate rights of the fetus, you start to erode the rights of the woman."
Two years ago, legislation similar to Griffin's Law passed in both the House and Senate by a big margin, but then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill, and an override effort failed.
A few weeks ago, when Rideout discussed crafting the bill, he explained that he had carefully read Lynch's veto message and believes that HB 1503 avoids the issues about which Lynch was concerned.
The hearing drew media attention, including "Union Leader" reporter Gary Raymo, "Nashua Telegram" reporter Kevin Landrigan, and news anchor-reporter Amy Coveno of WMUR-TV Channel 9 of Manchester, who interviewed Ashlyn Rideout in the hallway of the Legislative Office Building after the hearing ended.