Legislators and Civil Rights Group Call on Governor Sununu to Veto the Bill.
Yesterday morning the New Hampshire House and Senate voted to adopt an Enrolled Bills Committee Amendment to SB 66 – a fetal personhood measure recognizing a fetus as an independent victim of a crime for the first time in New Hampshire law. The amended bill now makes its way to Governor Chris Sununu’s desk.
During yesterday’s floor debate, House Speaker Shawn Jasper confirmed the enrolled bill amendment was put forth because SB 66, as passed by both chambers, would have allowed pregnant women to commit murder with impunity. Enrolled bill amendments are rarely voted on by the full House and Senate because they are normally restricted to typographical or technical errors.
Yesterday, the House and Senate voted to adopt a substantive enrolled bill amendment significantly changing the structure of the exceptions to SB 66’s expansion of New Hampshire’s homicide laws.
“This bill, which makes major changes to New Hampshire’s homicide laws, deserved a full vetting by the legislature. It is our duty to write the state’s laws through an open, transparent process, and making substantive changes to our state’s murder laws in the way that we did today is a disservice to New Hampshire,” said Representative Renny Cushing (D-Hampton). “What the House did today was legislative malpractice, and I am concerned about the long term implications this will have on our democracy.”
“We urge Governor Sununu to veto this legislation,” said Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “The fact that this last minute amendment was needed to avoid some of SB 66’s outrageous unintended consequences demonstrates that the bill was not fully vetted. The amendment adopted today is also extremely confusing, jeopardizing critical exemptions intended to protect pregnant women and their physicians from unjust murder and other homicide charges.”
Additional unintended consequences of SB 66 not addressed in the enrolled bills amendment includes the bill’s medically inaccurate definition of a fetus, which would be the only definition of a fetus in New Hampshire law. Judges could reasonably look to this medically inaccurate definition when interpreting the term “fetus” as it appears in other statutes including: the assault statute; the vital records statute; or the statute governing organ donation.
“This Republican bill has been plagued with issues from the outset. If as much effort was invested into writing the bill as was invested into eroding women’s reproductive rights, perhaps our Republican colleagues wouldn’t need to break Senate procedure to fix their mistakes,” said Senator Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), Deputy Democratic Leader in the Senate.
“Not only were medical experts never consulted during the construction of this bill, but Republicans were so careless as to include language that provides immunity for pregnant women in homicide cases. Now, they’re scrambling after-the-fact to use a legislative process normally used to correct spelling errors to make major policy changes about women’s reproductive health. And to demonstrate how desperate Republicans are, when a Senate colleague stepped forward in standard Senate procedure to voice her opposition to this process, she was interrupted and shut down by her Republican colleagues. This legislation is an exercise in poor craftsmanship on top of bad policy, and I’m concerned with the precedent this creates,” added Soucy.
“It is extraordinarily disheartening to me that the body would choose to make substantive changes to the entire homicide statute at a point in the process designed to ‘correct any error or omission in the references to statutes, or other technical or clerical errors.’ Today’s actions set an extremely disturbing precedent,” stated Representative Shannon Chandley (D-Amherst).
Senate Bill 66 establishes a basis for discrimination against pregnant women by codifying a medically unsound definition of a fetus as a separate person capable of being a victim of a crime. While the law is said to be an attempt to win justice for parents who lose a child during pregnancy due to criminal action, laws like SB 66 are used in other states to punish pregnant women for “risky” behaviors that are not criminal for others and has created legal argument to attack women’s reproductive health services.
Existing New Hampshire law currently provides for severe enhanced penalties for violent crimes resulting in the loss of pregnancy, without the outrageous unintended consequences that exist within SB 66. Under that existing New Hampshire law, a person may be prosecuted for First Degree Assault if they purposely or knowingly cause injury to another resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth—a class A Felony carrying a sentence of up to 15 years.