By RNE’s Executive Director, Kate Weldon LeBlanc
In mid-January, RESOLVE New England (RNE) learned that a so-called “personhood” bill had been filed in New Hampshire, and that its hearing before the House Judiciary committee would be held the following week. HB 194, “An Act providing that life begins at conception”, would give personhood rights to embryos from the moment of fertilization. Of course, we had significant concerns, since those facing infertility rely on the availability of assisted reproductive technology, such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), to try to build their families. HB 194 could have threatened the entire practice of IVF in New Hampshire, as it may have been considered to pose too great a risk to embryos.
RNE Board Member Catherine Tucker and I both wanted to testify in person against the legislation, and fortunately our schedules cooperated. That said, I was only about two weeks into my new position as RNE Executive Director, and although much of my professional career has been devoted to advocating for families, I admittedly felt a little nervous! Fortunately I had help from Catherine and our fellow advocacy partners so that I could quickly get up to speed on personhood legislation.
The morning of the hearing was sunny and cold in Concord, New Hampshire, with a thin layer of snow on the ground that in retrospect seems quaint! Catherine and I were early to the hearing, but most everyone else was VERY early, so we were among the last to testify, after 1pm in the afternoon. Fortunately most of the Judiciary committee members were still there, and all listened intently.
Testifying together on behalf of our broad RNE community, Catherine and I were pleased to have the opportunity to share our concerns about HB 194, namely its potential harm to cryopreservation, IVF, and other fertility treatments. In addition, our colleagues and friends at American Society for Reproductive Medicine, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, IVF New England, and the New England Fertility Society submitted written testimony. Several others also advocated at this stage. Our collective opposition and concerns about unintended consequences definitely seemed to resonate with members of the committee.
A couple of weeks later, we were thrilled to hear that the NH House Judiciary committee reported out HB 194 as “INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE“, by a vote of 10-4. NH Rep. Claire Rouillard, writing for the majority of the committee, indicated that “HB194, as written, is unconstitutional. Also, this bill as worded may take away rights of families who need medical assistance to have children. Specialists, who provide IVF currently available in New Hampshire, may not be able to do so if this bill were passed.”
However, in the “Granite State”, even bills with a negative report still move to the full House, and we learned that its vote would be held that same week! RESOLVE kindly shared their online advocacy system so that RNE could quickly generate messages to NH Representatives before the floor vote. HB 194 was then defeated in the NH House, by a decisive 246-104 vote!
I am grateful to everyone who was involved in advocating against HB 194 and will look back fondly on our first official advocacy victory together.