Griffin’s Law: Why New Hampshire Needs It, and Why Cornerstone Supports It

February 13, 2014

A New Hampshire House committee will soon cast the first crucial vote on a bill that will mean justice for some grieving New Hampshire families. It’s a bill that responds to a concern expressed five years ago by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  HB 1503 is a fetal homicide bill, similar to a bill that passed House and Senate in 2012 before falling to a veto. This legislation would allow prosecution of a person, such as an impaired driver or abusive domestic partner, whose actions cause a woman to lose a pregnancy that she has chosen to carry.  It explicitly does not apply to abortion or to any act performed with the mother’s consent. And yet against all common sense, the bill is being opposed by abortion advocates.

They have a battle on their hands. They’re up against Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster, whose interest is very personal. His daughter, Ashlyn, lost her baby. In his own words:

“On June 4th [2013] one of my daughters was involved in an auto accident when another driver ran a stop sign at a high rate of speed into the path of my daughter’s car. She was approximately 7½ months pregnant with Griffin…. My daughter suffered serious injuries….While trying to stabilize her for a Med flight to Dartmouth, Griffin took a turn for the worse and despite an emergency C section and a 40 minute fight to resuscitate Him Griffin succumbed to injuries from the crash.” 

The formal House records call Rideout’s bill HB 1503. Rep. Rideout calls it Griffin’s Law.

Sadly, situations come up again and again that underscore the need for a New Hampshire fetal homicide law. A few months ago, a man allegedly trying to commit suicide drove his car across the median of an interstate highway in New Hampshire, killing a man and an 8-months-pregnant woman. The driver is not facing charges for the death of the pre-born child, a little girl. Local prosecutors couldn’t file those charges even if they wanted to. New Hampshire law does not recognize the loss of that little girl’s life.

This point was reluctantly driven home by the state Supreme Court a few years ago.  In 2006, a drunk driver traveling at over 100 miles per hour on the streets of Manchester hit a taxi, killing one adult and injuring two others. One of the injured victims was 7 months pregnant, and her baby was delivered by cesarean section shortly after the collision. The baby, a boy named Dominick, died two weeks later. The medical examiner determined that he died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the collision. Three years later, on appeal, the state supreme court overturned the driver’s conviction for causing the child’s death. Justice Duggan, writing for a unanimous court, said, “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.”

At the recent hearing on HB 1503 before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee, all those present heard from Rep. Rideout and from other members of his family. They also heard from representatives of NARAL, Pro-Choice NH, and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, who courteously but firmly opposed the bill. They spoke of an erosion of women’s rights if such a bill were to pass, even though the bill would not apply to any action by the mother or performed at the mother’s request. Over three dozen other states have fetal homicide laws, and Roe v. Wade is still very much the law of the land – but that apparently doesn’t stop abortion advocates from imagining threats to Roe where none exist.

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ACTION ITEM [for your email]: contact members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee and urge them to vote ought to pass without amendments to HB 1503. Here’s the link to all contact information for committee members. Cornerstone will be following this bill and will let you know when it comes up for a vote in the full House.