CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire's House speaker on Friday called on a state representative to apologize for invoking abortion during the debate of a group of fourth-graders' bill to name the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor.
The students from Lincoln H. Akerman School in Hampton Falls had drafted the measure as part of a lesson on how a bill becomes a law. As they watched the debate from the House gallery last week, Republican Rep. Warren Groen said the bird tears prey apart "limb by limb" and would be a better mascot for Planned Parenthood.
Republican Speaker Shawn Jasper of Hudson said in a statement that Groen's comments were in extremely poor taste and that he should apologize to the students, his constituents and his colleagues.
Groen's remarks provoked a sharp backlash after a video of him speaking on the floor of the House was posted on the Internet. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that he stands by his comments. His voice mailbox was full Friday afternoon and he did not immediately return an email from the AP seeking comment on Jasper's request.
"I totally understand one's right to freedom of speech but we all need to be sensitive to the audience that we are addressing," Jasper said in a statement. "One does not have the right to yell 'fire' in a crowded theatre and claim freedom of speech. Rep. Groen clearly crossed the line in his remarks."
School Principal Mark Deblois said he heard from parents whose kids asked what Planned Parenthood is and why it was invoked in a discussion about hawks. He said the kids didn't understand the connection between Groen's comments and abortion and were really more upset by the lawmakers who made jokes and said the bill was frivolous.
Representatives from both parties spoke against the legislation, saying the state has enough official symbols and that the bill was a waste of time when lawmakers need to focus on passing a budget.
Republican Rep. John Burt, who spoke against the bill, met with reporters on Friday and played several angry voicemails he has received, including some that were laced with vulgar insults.