CONCORD, N.H. – A civics lesson took an unexpected turn for a group of New Hampshire fourth-graders when a lawmaker brought the abortion debate into their effort to name a state raptor.
The students from Lincoln H. Akerman School in Hampton Falls worked during class and on their own time to craft a bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. They got a sponsor for it, got the bill through a House of Representatives committee and then watched from the House gallery last week to see if it would pass.
Rep. Warren Groen, a Republican from Rochester, rose to speak on the measure, which was defeated.
"It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor-sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds, to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood," Groen said.
Principal Mark Deblois said Thursday that he has heard from parents whose kids asked what Planned Parenthood is and why it was invoked in a discussion about hawks.
"None of the kids got those (abortion) references," he said. "Fortunately they didn't, because it's such a disgusting reference. But certainly that led to questions about what did that mean."
Groen defended his comments and chastised critics for being outraged by his comments but not by abortion.
"The gallery is open to the public and there are children in the gallery every day," he said. "I don't know if we should limit free speech or limit the attendance in the gallery. It seems either one would be bad for transparency in government."
Other lawmakers joked that they were representing a constituent named "The Big Chicken" or ridiculed the bill as silly, saying the state would next be naming an official hot dog. Those comments affected the students more than the Planned Parenthood comment, Deblois said.
"Obviously, they were disappointed that their bill didn't pass, but it was just the manner in which they say the bill was debated, when they saw people stand up and say these just appalling things," Deblois said. "That (the abortion reference) was probably less than the gentlemen who stood up and made jokes. That was almost more upsetting to them because they understood those references. Why didn't they take us seriously? Why were people laughing?"