Executive councilors voted 4-1 to deny funding to the state’s largest low-income reproductive healthcare providers thrice in less than a year. On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services will ask them to reconsider – again.
Democratic Councilwoman Cinde Warmington continued Monday to publicly support family planning contracts. Republican Councilman Joe Kenney said he would likely continue to oppose it. The other three advisers, Republicans Janet Stevens, David Wheeler and Ted Gatsas, did not return a message.
What is certain is the ministry’s next step if the contracts fail a fourth time.
“If we hit a wall every time, we’re going to keep pushing it forward and hitting that wall,” commissioner Lori Shibinette said in an interview last week. “We won’t stop.”
Proposed $1 million contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Lovering Health Center and Equality Health Center would serve nearly 17,600 Granite Staters, with a focus on low-income, uninsured, underinsured , teens, LGTBQ+, refugees, and people at risk of unwanted pregnancy due to substance abuse.
The money offered can be used for basic reproductive health care, such as cancer screening, STD screening and treatment, birth control, annual checkups, and abstinence education and reporting protected sex. Under the contracts, providers can answer questions about abortion and refer patients to centers that offer abortions, but they cannot use contract funding to perform abortions.
None of the suppliers breached this rule, according to statements and information provided to advisers by Heath and Human Services, which is now required by the legislature to vet suppliers. The attorney general’s office confirmed those findings, but the assurances were unconvincing.
Kenney reiterated his concerns on Monday about the misuse of public money.
“If (reproductive health services) are all under one tent, one umbrella, I find it hard to support funding for an organization that provides abortions,” he said. Kenney said he would feel differently if organizations had created separate spaces and budgets for their abortion work and other reproductive health care.
Republican lawmakers had sought the same operating division during budget negotiations last year, but agreed to the requirement that suppliers be audited in a compromise proposed by Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro.
Kenney said he would have additional questions for the department on Wednesday about the state’s obligation under the new abortion law, which he said “allows abortions up to 25 weeks, I believe. “. The law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks with two exceptions: a risk to the life of the mother and a fetus that will not survive on its own after delivery.
On Friday, the Joint Legislative Committee on Taxation passed a related funding request from the department that sought to accept and spend about $1.4 million in federal funds for family planning.
Questions about what the money can — and can’t — be used led Sen. Gary Daniels, a Republican from Milford, to vote against it.
The department had not yet made public that it hoped to direct some of that money to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Lovering Health Center and Equality Health Center, all of which offer abortions as part of their reproductive health care in using private money.
When Daniels asked Trish Tilley, director of the Public Health Services Division of Health and Human Services, what the money could be used for, she replied that no money could fund abortions. The money can only be used for reproductive health care such as contraception, cancer and STD screenings, and education, Tilley said.
While the department did not ask the tax committee to approve particular contracts on Friday, Daniels said he was upset to see the three vendors identified hours later on the Executive Council agenda, after being briefed during the meeting that the names of the suppliers were not yet public. .
“‘No money is going to abortion services,’ that means different things to different people,” Daniels said Monday. “Does this mean that none of the money will be used to pay someone who requests an abortion? This stuff has not been answered. I think the answers that were given were very vague and quite broad.
The department’s request was passed by the tax committee, 9-1.
Until recently, the state’s “Family Planning Program” provided high-quality, low-cost reproductive health care to people in all parts of the state.
Council votes in 2021 and January to defund Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Lovering Health Center and Equality Health Center did not close those centers but eliminated them from the program, leaving only four slots supported by state contacts in Berlin, Laconia, Manchester and Nashua. Contracts before the council on Wednesday would extend that network to Derry, Exeter, Keene, Concord and Greenland.
Sandi Denoncour, executive director of Lovering Health Center in Greenland, said the family planning contract accounts for 20-30% of her centre’s budget. It is expected to pay for the care of around 370 people by December 2023.
“Provider choice contributes to the success of statewide programs like family planning,” she said in an email. “While other providers on the Seacoast MAY provide services, none are obligated to provide them to the extent required by the contracted sites. Having more providers in the network ensures robust, high-quality models of care that the state can strengthen to better meet the current and emerging needs of our communities statewide.
Denoncour said the loss of funding led his center to eliminate a position dedicated to outreach and education. “We’ve worked hard to maintain our presence at community events,” she said, “but it’s a strain on an already very small staff.” Despite the loss, mobile charges remained, she said.
“New Hampshire taxpayers and legislators have prioritized funds for this program to meet the needs of lower-income citizens,” Denoncour said. “And while the Executive Council has the authority to approve or deny contracts, the outcome of denial is stigmatizing and removes important freedoms of health care choice for those seeking sexual and reproductive health services.”
The proposed contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England says it would provide care for nearly 16,240 people over two years. After the council rejected the supplier’s contract for the third time in January, he received $500,000 in federal money at the request of the federal delegation to cover part of this loss. Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said in a statement Monday that access to affordable health care remains critical and fragile.
“The fact is that with Roe vs. Wade flipped, the reproductive healthcare landscape in this country is (in) chaos,” she said. “Ensuring access to essential preventive health care – including birth control, cancer screening and STI testing and treatment – for our most vulnerable populations has never been more important. For more than a year, access to affordable, quality family planning care has been threatened for thousands of Granite Staters due to three consecutive votes to withdraw funding for reproductive health providers.
Warmington echoed that urgency Monday in an email.
“I’ve been holding this governor and this executive council accountable for funding health services…since they first rejected family planning funds last summer,” she said. “I hope these counselors finally understand the impact their rejection has had on the thousands of Granite Staters in their districts seeking care, and I hope they will join me on Wednesday in supporting these vital services.”