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GOP members of N.H. Executive Council reject family planning contracts for 4th time

N.H. State House
Allegra Boverman for NHPR
N.H. State House

The abortion landscape has changed but the votes didn't when New Hampshire Republicans rejected family planning contracts Wednesday for the fourth time in less than a year.

The Executive Council — which approves nominations and state contracts — voted 4-1 to deny funding to the Equality Health Center, Lovering Health Center and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The contracts, which were supported by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, would have funded cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and other routine health care services for more than 16,000 low-income women.

The outcome was the same when the council voted in September, December and January. Wednesday was the first vote since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion.

"On the national landscape ... we know that women's services as a whole are under assault. There is considerable discussion in Washington about limiting access to contraception, which is really what brings us to this discussion today," said the council's lone Democrat, Cinde Warmington.

"These services are more critical than ever in our state," she said.

Republican councilors previously had raised concerns that public money would pay for abortions and continued to vote no even after audit reports confirmed that funds were not commingled.

Few of the councilors explained their opposition Wednesday. Councilor David Wheeler asked whether the clinics could refer patients for abortions and was told yes. Councilor Ted Gatsas asked whether the contracts would allow a 14-year-old girl to get an emergency contraceptive — the morning-after pill — at a pharmacy without parental consent.

That's already allowed under state law regardless of whether a teen goes to a clinic, said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette.

"That same 14-year-old can access STD treatment in our state without parental consent, but we don't stop approving those contracts," she said.

Health clinic officials said they've seen a surge in demand for contraception since the June 24 Supreme Court ruling.

"It's only been a month since Roe fell and already we're seeing complete chaos in this country regarding sexual and reproductive health. We're also seeing that here in New Hampshire," said Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. "That's why this vote is so outrageous, because these four executive councilors continue to not listen to facts and facts and reason and science."

Dalia Vidunas, executive director of the Equality Health Center, said she likely will have to eliminate her clinic's sliding scale fees to make up the loss.

"I'm really disappointed that they don't care enough about the residents of New Hampshire to make sure that we have reproductive health services," she said.

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