Anti-abortion advocates often frame their arguments in terms of women’s empowerment. But rarely do they go as far as New Hampshire Republicans recently did with a bill that would have given pregnant women impunity to commit murder.
Senate Bill 66 was intended to define a fetus past 20 weeks of gestation as a person in cases of murder or manslaughter. Proponents of such “fetal homicide” bills argue that they protect both pregnant women and their unborn children from violence, and provide recourse when fetuses are victims of reckless drivers, for example. But critics say they are designed to undermine abortion rights. They point out that such laws have ensnared women who experience miscarriages and who are suspected of trying to self-induce abortion. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states currently have some kind of feticide laws on the books.
New Hampshire Republicans tried to reassure critics by including exemptions designed to protect from prosecution doctors and women seeking abortions. The bill’s original language stated that “any act committed by the pregnant woman” or a doctor acting in his professional capacity wouldn’t apply in cases of second-degree murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide. Unfortunately, “any act” implied, well, any act. The bill “allows a pregnant woman to commit homicide without consequences,” Republican representative J.R. Hoell told the Concord Monitor. “Although that was never the intent, that is the clear reading of the language.” *blooper sound effect*
The bill cleared the state Senate and the House before anyone noticed this fully dilated loophole. To be fair, lawyers consulted by the Monitor said that if the bill actually became law, the state would likely have been protected by existing legal language including the principle that laws cannot be read literally when such a reading would yield an “absurd result.” Still, it’s probably fair to assume that New Hampshire was mere weeks away from having an army of Kill Bill–style avenging mothers-to-be roaming the state with Uzis propped on top of their bulging bellies.
As a New Hampshire resident, I am happy to report that we have been spared this fate. On Thursday morning, the House passed a technical amendment that corrected the bill’s language “to make sure pregnant women don’t go around killing people,” as one Democratic representative put it on the House floor on Thursday. The bill proceeds next to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has previously said he plans to sign SB66 into law.