Executive Council rejects contracts for family-planning providers, again

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Jul. 28—HENNIKER — The N.H. Executive Council decided Wednesday to reject for the fourth time in a year more than a million dollars in funding for organizations that provide people of low income with cancer screenings, contraceptives, treatment and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion care.

Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord was the lone councilor to vote in favor of state contracts for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which has an office in Keene, and two other providers. The only Democrat on the five-person council, she represents a district that includes much of the Monadnock Region.

Kayla Montgomery, vice president for public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the council's decision was "outrageous."

"We know this country is really in chaos when it comes to sexual and reproductive health because of the fall of Roe v. Wade," she said. "We're seeing an increase in demand for birth control, particularly long-acting birth control.

"Some of these extreme politicians want to ban abortion, they want to make it harder to get birth control, and it is outrageous."

Voting against the contracts at Wednesday's meeting at New England College were Republican councilors David Wheeler, a Milford resident who represents many area towns, along with Theodore Gatsas of Manchester, Janet Stevens of Rye and Joseph Kenney of Union. This is the fourth time since last September such contracts have been rejected.

N.H. Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told the council before Wednesday's vote that none of this money would go toward providing abortions, but that the other health services it would pay for are critically important.

The contracts to the three health care providers, which also include Equality Health Center in Concord and the Joan G. Lovering Health Center in Greenland, fall under Title X, a federal grant program to provide family-planning services for people who are of low income or are uninsured. Part of the role of the Executive Council is to approve state contracts, including those funded with federal money.

"Restricting Title X funds disproportionately impacts women from low-income families," Shibinette said. "It is equivalent to reducing access to health care services for low-income women."

The proposed contract for Lovering Health Center was for $300,771, Planned Parenthood's was $306,450 and Equality Health Center's was $463,164.

Patricia Tilley, the state's director of public health services, also spoke in favor of awarding the contracts.

"Access to comprehensive contraception is critically important for a woman's health and for her economic viability in this world and her economic movement," she said.

"Title X is a preventative service. It allows a woman to plan her births. It allows a woman to control her health care so that she can succeed in school and succeed in the workplace."

Councilor Kenney said after the meeting that even though the money that would have been provided in the contracts was not supposed to go to toward abortions, he was concerned about "co-mingling of funds."

Even if the money wasn't used for abortions, it could free up funds for an organization so that it has more resources to provide the procedure, he said.

"I've always run as a pro-life Republican, and nothing has really changed in my mind," he said.

Councilor Gatsas said he opposed the funding because he was concerned this could allow a 14-year-old girl to get a morning-after pill without her parents knowing.

Tilley responded that the girl could also go into any pharmacy in the state and get that same emergency contraception pill without parental notification.

Rick Green can be reached at rgreen@keenesentinel.com or 603-355-8567.