Executive Council votes 4-1 to deny state funding for reproductive health providers

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Planned Parenthood supporters rallied outside the Executive Council meeting in Nashua on Wednesday. Photo/Paula Tracy

NASHUA, NH – New Hampshire’s Executive Council voted 4-1 on Wednesday to reject family planning contracts with three reproductive health providers across the state that also provide abortion care with separate funding – Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Lovering Health center, and Equality Health Center.

According to Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, those three providers deliver 80% of services provided under New Hampshire’s Family Planning Program.

The failure to approve these contracts will negatively impact women’s health across the state, unintended birth and teen birth rates, and birth outcomes, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette.

While Gov. Chris Sununu did not speak to the contracts during the meeting, following the vote he released the following statement: “I brought these contracts forward because I support them, just as I have every year as governor, because they protect women’s health and it is the right thing to do. Today’s action to vote down funding like cancer screenings and other women’s health services is incredibly disappointing and not something I agree with.”

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord, the lone Democrat on the council and sole supporter of the contracts for the reproductive health providers, stated, “We need to quit playing politics with the health care of the women of this state.”

Warmington was the lone supporter of contracts for Planned Parenthood of NH, Equality Health Center of Concord, the Joan G. Lovering Health Care Center of Greenland and Amoskeag Health of Manchester.

Voting against the contracts were Republican Councilors Joe Kenney of Wakefield, David Wheeler of Milford, Janet Stevens of Rye, and Ted Gatsas of Manchester.

Gatsas said he does not believe a minor should be given a “morning after” pill – which he erroneously conflated with medication abortion – without parental consent and for that reason he said he would vote against the contracts.

The contracts up for debate on Wednesday had been postponed to allow time for the state to conduct financial reviews of the applicants; therefore, some of the funding was retroactive to cover care delivered during that review period. Shibinette said audits showed that no Family Planning Program provider used state or federal funds for abortion care, and that all were in compliance with state and federal regulations.

Paying for non-abortion reproductive health services is allowed under the law, Attorney General John Formella clarified.

Wheeler said he would not support the contracts because there was no physical separation of services, although that is not required under New Hampshire statute.

“You can’t pay a secretary half out of one pot of money and half out of another pot of money,” said Wheeler.
“These are the rules now and they have to be followed.”

Kayla Montgomery, Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund called the Council’s vote “shameful”.

“Today, four Executive Councilors chose to ignore public health experts and put their own views before the health and safety of their constituents,” Montgomery stated. “Healthy communities and healthy families start with access to quality, affordable health care, and Planned Parenthood has been a trusted provider in the Granite State for nearly 50 years. This defund jeopardizes care for nearly 12,000 patients and disproportionately impacts low income and marginalized people – who have been hit the hardest during the pandemic.”

This is not the first time the Executive Council denied state funds for reproductive health providers that also provide abortion. In 2011 and 2015, Council members rejected contracts for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. In 2015, then Councilor Chris Sununu cast the deciding vote.

“Today, Governor Sununu failed to exhibit any leadership of his party or his Council when he sat back and watched four Republicans dismantle the reproductive health care infrastructure of our state, jeopardizing access to care for 12,000 Granite Staters,” said Deputy Senate Democratic Leader Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua.

Former state Senator Melanie Levesque, a state Democratic party senior advisor, was critical of Sununu.

“Sununu vigorously campaigned to secure an anti-reproductive health care majority on the Executive Council, and now thousands of Granite Staters will lose access to critical health care services as a result. From supporting Mitch McConnell’s Supreme Court justices to signing an abortion ban into law, Chris Sununu has done more than any other New Hampshire Governor to take away access to reproductive health care. Sununu’s attacks on health care are out of step with New Hampshire — and will be a major liability with voters the next time he’s on the ballot,” Levesque said in a statement after the meeting.

Also, in a 3-2 vote, the council rejected $22.4 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund the Immunization Program under the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 and create 12 new positions for immunization purposes.  Deputy Senate Democratic Leader Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua) issued the following statement in response:

“There was no reason to reject this federal funding beyond political showmanship. Particularly following yesterday’s reckless anti-vaccination rally hosted by Speaker Packard, it is clearer than ever that New Hampshire Republicans are not interested in protecting Granite Staters, only in protecting dangerous right-wing extremism,” Rosenwald said.

The meeting at St. Joseph’s Academic Center in Nashua was attended by pro-choice protesters outside who outnumbered pro-life protesters by 25-2.

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Paula Tracy

Veteran reporter Paula Tracy writes for InDepthNH.org