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Kelly Wins Planned Parenthood Endorsement Despite Murky Stance On Abortion Funding

Annie Ropeik for NHPR

Abortion rights have been a big issue in the Democratic primary for New Hampshire Governor.

Both candidates - former state senator Molly Kelly and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand - have been working to cast themselves as the more stout defender of legal abortion.

Today, the political arm of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England rendered its judgement, endorsing Molly Kelly.

Joining All Things Considered to discuss the endorsement is Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers

Note: Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

The Planned Parenthood NH action fund PAC is supporting Molly Kelly. Why, and what will this mean?

Planned Parenthood’s NH Action Fund PAC says after meeting with Molly Kelly and Steve Marchand and scrutinizing their records, it was clear to them that Molly Kelly’s ten years in the senate and the votes she’s taken, both to expand health care and also to block limits on abortion prove, as Planned Parenthood puts it, “That she has and always will fight to abortion rights.”

So that’s the why, or at least part of it. The "what this all means" is less clear. When I spoke with folks from the Planned Parenthood PAC, and they indicated the particulars of what they might do in this governor’s race remains to be seen.

The goal, they said, is to “lift” Kelly. Mail pieces are likely; digital ads, grassroots outreach, all that stuff can be meaningful. But while abortion rights activist see this year as crucial, the Kavanaugh Supreme court nomination is out there, and nationally, they want President Trump to suffer these midterms.

You mention the Kavanaugh nomination, and with that the spectre of overturning of Roe V Wade, which has the potential to make states real battlegrounds on abortion issues.

Steve Marchand says that’s what’s prompted him to push to codify legal abortion in state law, to propose the repeal of several laws that touch issues relating to abortion, and to propose that New Hampshire join the states that allow tax money to pay for abortions. Molly Kelly has been more circumspect in her proposals, hasn’t she?

There is no doubt that Molly Kelly considers abortion rights a major issue. But she has been very circumspect when it comes to addressing the possible taxpayer funding of abortions for low income women.

The Hyde amendment prohibits federal tax money bieng used for abortion in most cases. In 2016, the national Democratic platform called for junking the Hyde amendment. Hillary Clinton also campaigned on doing that. And more than a dozen states allow local tax dollars to pay for abortions.

Molly Kelly has been asked about this repeatedly and she’s never clearly staked out a positions.

Here’s what she said almost a month ago: “I am going to put out a policy and you will be one of the first to see that, that will be very clear, as I’ve said, on where I stand, where I’ve always stood.”

Molly Kelly has no clear stance on taxpayer funding of abortion?

No, and one interesting thing about this is that Planned Parenthood does support that. Here’s what Planned Parenthood’s local VP for Public Policy Sabrina Dunlap told me when I asked her about it:

“That is absolutely a value that Planned Parenthood holds, that all women, regardless of income, should have access to safe, legal abortion, and so the fact that this is being discussed now, we think is a positive thing.”

Credit NHPR Staff
In 2016, Planned Parenthood's backing of Colin Van Ostern in the race for N.H. governor was announced with a lot of fanfare. Van Ostern won the primary, but lost the general election to Chris Sununu.

So the Planned Parenthood PAC’s endorsement isn’t going to the candidate who's willing to talk about it?

No, and one could ask what that means for the future of the debate for public funding of abortion if a PAC like Planned Parenthood's chooses the candidate who won’t say if she supports it.

And for the record, Steve Marchand has said he’s “genuinely shocked” this endorsement happened.

But this this bit hits on the reality of all political endorsements, and that is they are about more than simple policy. I think Steve Marchand knows this by now, that endorsements are also about relationships.

Molly Kelly has good relationships with people who pull the strings on these sorts of things - sometimes they are former colleages in the legislature, other times they are folks who worked issues or campaigns together.

How much of a role might gender have played here?

Hard to say, and you can’t discount it. But Molly Kelly is the better known in abortion rights circles. And Planned Parenthood PAC doesn’t need to be reminded of the friction caused last time around when it choose to get into the governor’s race. This same PAC, albeit with slightly different board members, chose to back Colin Van Ostern over two other pro-choice Democrats, which caused some very sore feelings.

Van Ostern carried the primary before losing in the general. And his endorsement, some will recall, was an endorsement made with great fanfare.

Planned Parenthood rolled their choice of Molly Kelly choice out differently, without any public events. 

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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