April 30, 2014CONCORD — The Senate failed on Thursday to pass a fetal homicide bill and finally tabled it on a 21 to 2 vote after nearly an hour of debate while prime sponsor, Rep. Leon Rideout, a Republican of Lancaster, and members of his family, including his wife and both his adult daughters — observed the action from the Chamber's small balcony in the State House.
Rideout introduced HB 1503 — "Griffin's Law — after his daughter Ashlyn lost her already-named unborn son that she'd carried for some seven-and-a-half months following a car accident last summer in Stratford.
A motion to table the bill was made before debate began, but it was defeated, 10 to 13, on a roll call vote. Senator Andrew Hosmer, a Democrat of Laconia, was absent that day and listed as excused.
Then a motion was made to pass the bill as the Senate Judiciary Committee had recommended that it be worded, on a 3 to 2 vote, essentially restoring Rideout's original language that had been substantially changed in the House. That, too, failed on a 10 to 13 roll call vote.
Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro amended the bill so that it would only apply when the fetus was "viable" — able to live outside the womb — and not after eight weeks of pregnancy as specified in Rideout's original language. Although Bradley, who had become a first-time grandfather to a granddaughter — Amelia Bradley of Denver, Colo. — over the Easter weekend, spoke passionately about what the loss of a "viable" baby would have meant to him and his family, he forgot to mention that the wording of his amendment tracked that of then-Senator Matthew Houde, a Democrat of Plainfield, in a recent previous session. Bradley was reminded by one of his colleagues, however, and readily conceded that that was so.
Both Sen. Bette Lasky, a Democrat of Nashua, and Sen. Peggy Gilmour, a Democrat of Hollis, said that there were too many unanswered questions on Bradley's amendment, and it failed on an 11 to 12 vote. Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Republican of Meredith, voted for the bill's passage.
The bill was then tabled on a 21 to 2 vote, and Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem told reporters he did not expect it to be taken up again during this session.
When Rideout came down the stairs from the balcony he said, said that he was "disappointed" in the Senate's action and attributed his bill's failure to pass to the power of pro-choice lobbying organizations, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America.
"I would have accepted Bradley's amendment," said Rideout, admitting that he had been unaware of former Sen. Houde's compromise wording the last time that a fetal homicide bill before the Senate.
The Lancaster rep, who represents 10 southern Coös towns, said he that he plans to introduce Griffin's Law again in the next session and is hoping for a "friendlier House" after November's Election Day.
Rideout said he had been particularly disappointed by District 1 Senator Jeff Woodburn's two votes against HB 1503, including the Bradley amendment. On his Facebook page he questioned Woodburn's oft-made claim that he is, in fact, the Senate's "most independent" member.
Early on in Thursday's Senate debate Woodburn rose to explain his reasons for opposing Griffin's Law.
"Last week, this body decided whether the state in its infinite power can take life (through the death penalty), and today we are considering establishing when life begins," Woodburn said.
"This bill – called Griffin's Law – represents a very tragic situation. I commend the House sponsor — the Representative from Lancaster and his family — for their courage to tell their painful story and use it to sincerely to help others.
"But sympathy can't be the guiding principle of government – as a civics teacher I taught my students that the 'key to good government is restraint.'
"The history of the world is a sad, tragic story of government abuse against people's basic rights. "Government needs to be the steady hand, cautious and judicious. When you peel back the layers of this bill and the compelling story that motivates it, we are left with a troubling bill – rejected by previous legislatures (including my own predecessor) – that while trying to increase penalties for crimes against pregnant women, erode the fundamental constitutional right to an abortion.
"The focus must be on the woman, and not to create stand-alone rights for a developing fetus that establishes that life begins some time before birth.
"This is the foundation of the Roe v. Wade (decision) that was established (on Jan. 22, 1973, with a 7-to-2 majority) when I was in elementary school and is an important concept that women — not government — have the right to decide what they do with their bodies. This issue has been decided by the Supreme Court but more importantly it lives in the hearts and minds of our people."
Woodburn concluded, "I encourage restraint."