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Executive Council votes down Planned Parenthood funding

NASHUA — Going against New Hampshire’s Health and Humans Services Commissioner, the New Hampshire Attorney General, and Gov. Chris Sununu, the state’s Executive Council voted against funding Planned Parenthood and two other family planning providers.

David Wheeler, R-District 5, led the charge against funding Planned Parenthood, Equality Health Center in Concord, Lovering Health Center in Greenland over concerns that state funding would pay for abortions.

“I am very disturbed by the way these contracts were put out,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think any of these contracts have the separation from abortion and other services.”

The vote was highly anticipated and activists from both sides of the abortion divide were on hand. Wheeler was joined by Republicans Joe Kenny, District 1, and Ted Gatsas, District 4. Democrats Cinde Warmington, District 2, and Janet Stevens, District 3, were in favor of the funding.

Planned Parenthood, Lovering, and Equality, offer the majority of family planning services in New Hampshire, as much as 80 percent, according to DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette. They also are the only providers who advertise elective abortion services, according to Patricia Tilley the director of public health services for DHHS.

After the state passed HB2, the omnibus spending and budget that include restrictions on abortion and abortion funding, the state conducted an audit of all family planning providers to make sure they did not use any state funds to pay for abortion.

“We looked at everything,” Meredith Telus, director of programming and integrity for DHHS told the councilors. “We found no instances where our contract dollars were paying for medical or surgical abortion.”

Attorney General John Formella also told councilors that all three of the providers were in compliance with HB2. Wheeler discounted that testimony, maintaining that any funding for a provider that offers abortions is funding for abortions.

Wheeler and Gatsas also repeatedly expressed worry that 15-year-old girls would access birth control. Gatsas said he is opposed to the Plan B method and did not want teens to use that.

“I’ve always opposed the morning after pill for teens,” Gatsas said.

Wheeler repeatedly mentioned the hypothetical scenario in which the funds could be used for a 15-year-old girl to be sterilized without parental consent.

“I don’t know a single healthcare provider who will sterilize a 15-year-old without parental consent,” Shibinette finally responded to Wheeler. “Hypothetically it can be done.”

Warmington said services like cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases would be delayed because of the spending cuts. That means more negative outcomes for women's health, she said. The funding cuts would also lead to more unintended pregnancies which would result in more abortions, Warmington said.

“A vote against family planning is a vote to increase unintended pregnancies, and teen pregnancies, and therefore abortions,” she said.

The contracts would have paid out more than $7 million to 10 family planning providers, but Planned Parenthood, Lovering, and Equality were separated out of the contract vote, as they are the only three that advertise abortion services. The contracts had bipartisan support, with Gov. Chris Sununu backing them.

“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,” Sununu said. “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.”

Democrats accuse Sununu of hypocrisy on the abortion issue, and claim he is not as pro-choice as he maintains. They are trying to pin the vote on his leadership.

“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,” NHDP Senior Advisor Senator Melanie Levesque said in a statement reacting to the vote. “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.”

Jason Hennessy, president of New Hampshire Right to Life, was satisfied with the vote, saying the council is backing the law as outlined in HB2.

“I really appreciate that the Executive Council honored the will of the legislature,” Hennessy said,

He said that family planning services paid for through the Title 10 funding are a relic. Women can get the same services through the Affordable Care Act and numerous other providers, and the funding is no longer needed.

Kayla Montgomery, the senior director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said Wednesday’s vote puts women at risk by taking away preventative health care.

“Today’s vote was shameful,” Montgomery said. “It will make communities less safe during a pandemic.”

Immediately after the vote, held at St. Joseph Hospital’s Academic Center, people shouted obscenities at Wheeler and other councilors.

“Back alley abortions are coming back,” one woman shouted. “They were here 50 years ago and they are coming back.”

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