In an unprecedented move,
House Criminal Justice Committee reopens a retained bill
CONCORD – In an unprecedented move, the NH House Criminal Justice Committee passed SB 66 out of committee by a vote of 12-8. The House Committee previously retained the bill by a margin of 21-1. SB 66, if passed, would recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime for the first time in New Hampshire law.
SB 66 is a bill that poses serious unintended consequences and threatens women’s rights and health. The bill, as reported out by the House Criminal Justice Committee, would recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime. In doing so, SB 66 pits the rights of women against the rights of a fetus – threatening to erode the reproductive rights of Granite State women and to advance a larger national agenda to undermine the Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion access.
”In other states that have adopted personhood measures like SB 66, pregnant women have been subjected to surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and unwanted medical treatment,” says Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the ACLU-NH. “SB 66 is inconsistent with existing New Hampshire statutes, and pits women’s rights against fetal rights in a manner that threatens to undermine pregnant women’s status as full persons under the law.”
As amended by the Senate, SB 66 uses medically inaccurate terminology. The Senate amendment to SB 66 removed the term “viability” from the bill and included a definition of “fetus” that is inconsistent with how that term is understood by the medical community. Additionally, the Senate amendment’s use of a twenty-week marker has no grounding in medicine or law.
Current New Hampshire law recognizes the severe harm resulting from the death of a fetus and provides for an enhanced felony conviction in such cases. A person may be prosecuted for First Degree Assault if that person purposely or knowingly causes injury to another resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth—a class A Felony carrying a sentence of up to 15 years. People who commit violent crimes against pregnant women, especially crimes which result in miscarriage or stillbirth, should be punished and that punishment should recognize the severity of the harm and loss to women and their families. Representative Laura Pantelakos has submitted an amendment to SB 66 that would replace the bill with language that adds enhanced penalties to New Hampshire’s homicide statute. As such, Representative Pantelakos’ amendment would appropriately focus the law on the additional, often devastating injury suffered when a crime against a woman results in the loss of her pregnancy.
Leaders across New Hampshire are speaking out against SB 66 as passed by the Senate and as reported out of the House Criminal Justice Committee. Dalia Vidunas, Executive Director of the Equality Health, wrote in the Concord monitor: “SB 66 would become the first New Hampshire law to recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime. Such measures have been passed in other states to create a tension between women’s rights and fetal rights and provide a framework to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman’s right to choose.” Read the rest of Vidunas’ letter here.
Reverend Mary Westfall, Community Church of Durham, United Church of Christ wrote in the Portsmouth Herald: “We all agree that those who commit violent acts against pregnant women should be severely punished under the law. SB 66 is not the answer. Instead of providing recourse for tragic fetal loss, this bill is a slippery slope to eroding rights under Roe v. Wade. If the New Hampshire legislature wants to increase penalties for crimes against pregnant women it should do so without threatening women’s rights and in a manner consistent with existing law.” Read the rest of Westfall’s letter here.
Susan Arnold, Chair for the NH Reproductive Rights Advisory Council, wrote in Foster’s Daily Democrat: “SB 66, if passed, would recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime for the first time in New Hampshire law…In other states that have adopted personhood measures like SB 66, pregnant women have been subjected to surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and other deprivations of liberty for otherwise legal behavior that may or may not have harmed their fetuses. Justice for women? I think not. Read the rest of Arnold’s letter here.