Protect the Late-Term Preborn: Don’t Let Amendments Sabotage HB 625

We are very close to a Senate vote on HB 625, a bill that would put protections in place to preserve the life of preborn children who are at least 24 weeks gestational age. Support is growing, but we are also facing determined opposition. HB 625-FN is a carefully crafted and worded bill representing the combined efforts of legislators and legal scholars, including two proposed amendments to strengthen it – the Birdsell and French amendments – which Cornerstone supports. 

Unfortunately, it could just as easily be undone, especially if amendments designed to gut the bill are considered and passed. To pass viable legislation, we will need to stay vigilant and guard against efforts to dilute or sabotage the bill through harmful amendments. 

It’s important to note there are many good reasons for HB 625’s objective standard of 24 weeks. Here are two key ones:

  • It fixes the previous concerns with an earlier 2018 bill that criticized the standard of “viability” as subjective and not clear. [1] [2]  24 weeks is objective, clear, and gives clear notice to everyone what the law is.
  • 24 weeks is a very moderate standard. Until relatively recently, states such as Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York all used the 24-week standard to ban abortions. Sadly, in the past few years, these states have legalized abortion up to the point of birth, the last being Massachusetts in December of 2020. [3]

It is important to note that, in our current legislative climate, that there will always be opposition to any attempts to protect preborn life. Many of the same people who criticized the idea of a “viability” ban in 2018 are now proclaiming that the 24-week standard is “too arbitrary.” 

There are two ways to defeat a bill at this point — either vote it down outright or poison it from inside with amendments that, while positioned as well-meaning, are actually designed to sabotage the bill.

So-called “sabotage amendments” could defeat the bill and its purpose and actually do more harm than good. Here are some amendments we should all oppose for HB 625:

  • Felony penalties should not be stripped from the bill. Massachusetts and Nevada’s laws both carried felony penalties at 24 weeks, making this a moderate penalty. Additionally, consistency and clarity in the law are key. Not only would stripping the bill of felony penalties make HB 625 ineffective, it would be inconsistent with current NH law. Our one abortion restriction barring one specific late-term abortion procedure, intact dilation and extraction, carries class B felony penalties: see RSA 329:36. [4]
  • There should be no exception for fetuses with fetal anomalies. Massachusetts did not include such an exception in their pre-December 2020 legislation. And, by introducing a subjective assessment of viability into the law, the objective clarity of a 24-week standard could be lost, making the bill unnecessarily complex to defend in court. 
  • The idea of adding a “rape and incest exception” to a 24-week ban is not a good faith proposal. Neither the Massachusetts nor Nevada law included such an exception – and for good reason. This is a 24-week ban, a point far beyond a woman’s knowledge of her pregnancy and ability to act. Such an amendment would not actually help any women: its only purpose would be to sow discord and sabotage the bill when it returns to the House.

If HB 625-FN is to pass and fulfill its moderate mission of protecting late-term preborn life in the state, it will need informed and educated support for the original bill and the proposed Birdsell and French amendments. Any other amendments could endanger the bill and its effectiveness. Please let your senator know you are only in favor of the Birdsell and French amendments and oppose additional amendments.

Footnotes:

[1] See HB 1680, 2018.

[2] HR Vol. 40 No. 9, 2 March 2018, 71-72, HB 1680-FN, Minority (“This bill, by seeking to prohibit abortion after viability, would open the door to challenge the decisions of doctors who treat women later in pregnancy. Viability differs based on the pregnancy, the gender of the fetus, and even the capacity of the medical facility. A blanket ban would replace the analysis and decisions of doctors with the inflexible opinion of government, and risk a chilling effect. This is made worse by the bill’s lack of an exception for the health of the pregnant woman… Moreover, this bill is not needed, as abortions after viability are not routinely performed in New Hampshire.”). Note that, although the Minority stated that the bill lacked a health exception, this was not correct. HB 1680, as introduced, incorporated a life exception, a separate health exception, and other additional exceptions.  

[3] The ban said “Any person who violates the provisions of sections twelve L or twelve M [prohibiting abortion “If a pregnancy has existed for twenty-four weeks or more…”] shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five years.” Mass. Gen. Laws Part I, Title XVI, Ch. 112, Sec. 12N (2020).

[4] Before bans on intact D&E were passed, physicians preferred to “begin every D&E abortion with the objective of removing the fetus as intact as possible.” Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 155-156 (2007).