Update: Fetal Homicide Bill Clears N.H. House

May 31, 2017

Update: 12:55 PM:

This bill has passed the New Hampshire House by a vote of 186-170. We will continue to update this story.

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The New Hampshire House votes Thursday on a bill that would allow fetuses older than twenty weeks to be considered people in cases involving murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide. The debate over what are often called fetal homicide laws isn’t a new one in Concord, but with Republicans controlling the legislature and the governor's office, this year the bill is expected to become law.

Thirty-eight states have some kind of fetal homicide law, and but for Democrats' long hold on the governor’s office, New Hampshire would probably be among them. The issue hasn’t been a focus for Governor Chris Sununu, but it’s one where his position was clear ever before taking office.

“‘I’d love to see a fetal homicide bill done. I think that protects women who have been violated and lost late-term pregnancies. But I am pro-choice and believe in a woman’s right to choose the best path forward for herself and her family and that doesn’t conflict.”

Sununu’s stance - that he supports a fetal homicide bill and also abortion rights - is one backers of this bill often suggest is perfectly plausible. But talk to lawmakers who’ve been around Concord and this debate for years and they tend to see it more starkly.

Here’s Hampton democrat Renny Cushing:

“It's really a proxy for a debate over abortion, everyone acknowledges that.”

And there’s Manchester Republican Kathy Souza:

“It’s a question of fairness and justice, if the woman who wants to dispose of her child, can do it, why can’t the woman who wants her child have protection. That’s all we are asking."

Souza, a frequent sponsor of anti-abortion bills, may see this as a small step, but it’s never been easy one for lawmakers to take. Back in 2012, then-governor John Lynch vetoed a bill that would have allowed charges to be brought in some non-medical deaths of fetuses over 8 weeks old. In 2015 , the house and senate both passed fetal homicide bills which died when lawmakers couldn’t agree on a final version.

Things have also been a challenge this year. Three weeks ago, a house committee voted 20-1 to retain the bill for over the summer. The committee later reversed course.

House majority leader Dick Hinch expects the vote by the full house to break mostly along party lines, but acknowledges the history of the issue is complicated.

"There are so many facets to the thing. It’s long overdue and we’ve been working hard on it and it’s a good Republican bill."

That's a description that would have doomed this bill in the past, but which may now ensure success for this long-debated GOP priority.