Council turns down family planning for abortion providers - again

The New Hampshire Executive Council voted, 4-1, Wednesday to reject funding family planning services at three providers that also perform abortions. This was the third time in six months they have rejected these grants despite support from Gov. Chris Sununu. Dalia Vidunas, left, executive director of the Equality Health Center in Concord, and Kayla Montgomery, right, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, have criticized the decision as hurting lower-income women and warned it could lead to more unwanted pregnancies.

CONCORD — For a third time, the Republican-led Executive Council on Wednesday turned down $1 million in family planning contracts for three providers that also run abortion clinics in New Hampshire.

As in the past, Councilors David Wheeler, R-Milford, Joseph Kenney, R-Wakefield, Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, and Janet Stevens, R-Rye, opposed giving contracts to Equality Health Center in Concord, Lovering Health Center in Greenland and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, was the lone supporter, though Gov. Chris Sununu has also supported the contracts and, despite the continued rejection, he warned he might bring them back in the coming months yet again.

“I might put it on the agenda every week, who knows?” Sununu said half-jokingly after the vote. “If there is an additional information to be provided then yes, absolutely we will bring it forth.”

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette asserted that completed audits have confirmed these programs had not comingled money for other health services with their abortion offerings.

“They are in complete compliance with the law,” Shibinette said. And just prior to the vote, she pleaded with the councilors to change their minds.

“Is there something I can provide or something I can tell you to switch that vote from no to yes? Anything?” Shibinette asked.

None of the councilors answered her.

“Maybe that’s a good sign” that no councilors wanted any more information, Sununu said to Shibinette who shook her head.

The governor signed the state budget trailer bill that not only banned abortion after 24 weeks but also placed restrictions on how family planning money could be spent by abortion providers.

Wheeler: Still not convinced money is separate

Wheeler said he remains convinced that contracts with these providers are not allowed under the budget trailer bill.

“They do not convince me that abortion services are not directly or indirectly funded with this money,” he said.

Warmington said the call for audits of these programs from GOP councilors ring hollow.

“It was a ruse from the beginning. They never intended to vote for these contracts,” she said.

The three providers have been delivering services such as contraception, cancer screenings and tests for sexually-transmitted diseases to about 12,000 residents.

Since the Executive Council cast its first vote to defund reproductive health providers last September, hundreds of Granite Staters have spoken out, said Kayla Montgomery, executive vice president with Planned Parenthood.

“Councilors Kenney, Stevens, Gatsas, and Wheeler have now had two opportunities to fix their mistake but refuse to put their personal politics to the side to do what’s right for their constituents,” she said. “This is yet another vote to dismantle the state family planning program and it is irresponsible and will cause irreparable harm to our network of care. New Hampshire deserves better.”

Executives with the other two providers have said that without the family planning grants, they will have to raise copayments and other costs charged to clients.

Leaders with New Hampshire Right to Life and Cornerstone Action, a socially conservative group, have praised the council for rejecting the contracts.

NHRTL President Jason Hennessey said the state has a robust number of health care providers in the state who can offer the same services.