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Republican-Controlled Executive Council Rejects Awarding Contracts To Reproductive Health Clinics

 Coucilor Ted Gatsas  sits and speaks on the left, and Commissioner  Lori Shibinette stands in a gray blazer stands to his right.
Todd Bookman
Councilor Ted Gatsas (L) and Lori Shibinette, commissioner for the Department of Health and Human Services (R), talk during the discussions of the contracts.

The Executive Council voted down contracts to reproductive health clinics that provide abortion services on Wednesday.

Republicans rejected awarding contracts to facilities, including several Planned Parenthood locations, citing concerns the money would mingle with other clinic funds. The public funds in question would not have been used to provide abortions.

The council did award funds to four clinics that don’t also provide abortion services.

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The proposed contract extensions would have funded reproductive health services including birth control and STI and cancer screenings for approximately 7,000 lower-income residents who receive care at more than a dozen facilities statewide.

In a statement, Gov. Chris Sununu called the vote “incredibly disappointing and not something I agree with.”

State health officials previously warned blocking the contracts would lead to more unplanned pregnancies and health disparities.

Earlier this year, the budget signed into law by Sununu contained a provision mandating a financial audit of reproductive health facilities to ensure no public funds are paying for abortion-related services.

State officials worked to fast-track those financial reviews this summer, which were discussed during Wednesday’s meeting.

The state health department confirmed that it found no evidence that providers previously used public funds on abortion-related care, and told councilors the proposed contracts complied with all state and federal laws.

Unswayed, Republican Councilors David Wheeler, Ted Gatsas, Janet Stevens and Joe Kenney voted against sending funds to five Planned Parenthood locations, as well as Equality Health Center in Concord and the Joan G. Lovering Health Center in Greenland. Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat on the council, voted yes.

On a 3-2 vote, the council approved sending funds to Amoskeag Health in Manchester, Coos County Family Health, Concord Hospital's Family Health Center and Lamprey Health Care in Nashua, which do not provide abortion services.

In a separate action, the council also rejected funds for the Community Action Program in Belknap-Merrimack Counties, despite the group not offering abortion services.

In total, the contracts were valued at around $640,000.

“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,” Lori Shibinette, commissioner for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in the contract proposal.

Similar family planning contracts have been debated by the council in previous years. The six-month contract extension would be retroactive, covering July 1 through the end of the calendar year.

Along with the financial audit provision in the recently signed budget, Republicans also passed a ban on abortions after 24 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest, as well as criminal penalties for abortion providers who violate the provision and a mandatory ultrasound.

Abortion-rights supporters in the state expressed dismay and anger after Wednesday’s votes.

Sandi Denoncour, executive director of Lovering Health Clinic in Greenland, said the decision disregards public health efforts.

“This vote is devastating,” she said. “There is no understating that this is absolutely connected to the anti-choice politics in our state. And those two issues, while related, have no business being connected in the funding decision today."

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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