Council to take up family planning grants controversy

The Republican-led Executive Council will consider whether to renew family planning contracts. Here, a group of “handmaids” were among the protesters opposed to the state budget at a State House rally in Concord on June 24.

The Sununu administration’s bid to extend existing contracts for family planning services takes center stage before the Executive Council Wednesday.

The first-ever ban on abortions after 24 weeks contained in the state budget trailer bill last June also required these programs to undergo financial audits that confirm any abortions performed there are “physically and financially separate” from other reproductive services such as birth control and cancer screenings.

These contracts provide grants totaling $423,631 for the seven different programs which already offer family planning services and would cover the period from last July 1 through the end of December.

Last June, some on the five-person council instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to refrain from bringing these contracts back in until the financial audits had been completed.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said this demand would risk a disruption in services for the 15,000 clients who receive them because full audits could not be done before year’s end.

Shibinette said her staff would reach out to existing providers and by the end of this summer they would finish a less comprehensive, “financial review” of these programs.

“Should the Governor and Executive Council not authorize this request, the sustainability of New Hampshire’s reproductive health care system will be negatively impacted,” HHS Deputy Commissioner Lori Weaver wrote in making this request on Shibinette’s behalf.

“Not authorizing this request could remove the safety net of services that improve birth outcomes, prevent unplanned pregnancy and reduce health disparities, which could lead to poor health and economic outcomes for individuals and increase the cost of health care for New Hampshire citizens.”

The 2,000-pages of contract amendments contain a signed stipulation from all providers that they won’t use any of the money on abortion services and would agree to turn in a financial audit at the end of each fiscal year.

Executive Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, a vocal abortion opponent, said those audits must be done before he would vote on any contract.

Wheeler said he doubted Planned Parenthood could produce records that prove there is a clear separation between their abortion clinics and these other services.

“The statute is pretty clear that you can’t be offering all these services in the same building,” Wheeler said.

Past contracts

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England seeks about 55% of these monies for the five clinics they run in Manchester, Claremont, Keene, Derry and Exeter.

The other providers are Amoskeag Health of Manchester, Concord Hospital’s Family Health Center, Coos County Family Health Center in Berlin, Equality Health Center in Concord, Joan G. Lovering Health Center in Greenland and the Lamprey Health Center in Nashua.

“The majority of Governor Sununu’s Executive Council has made clear, through past votes or campaign promises, that they will vote to defund Planned Parenthood (and potentially other providers), even though it will harm the public health of their communities,” said Kayla Montgomery, PPNNE’s executive vice president, in a statement Monday.

In the past, Councilors Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester and Wheeler all voted against family planning contracts for Planned Parenthood.

The fourth Republican on the council, first-term Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, said during her 2020 campaign she thought the state should create more competition for these services.

Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, supports the contracts and said any disruption of service would be an “outrage.”

As governor, Sununu supported the family planning contracts.

At the urging of Democratic legislative leaders in 2019, Sununu signed a two-year state budget that earmarked more state dollars to replace federal grants cut by former President Trump.

The Republican-led Legislature rejected pleas from Planned Parenthood and supportive lawmakers to make the same state grant commitment in the newest budget Sununu signed last June.

The Biden administration is not expected to completely reverse the Trump policy regarding these federal grants until the spring of 2022.