Council could get rejected family planning contracts for a fifth time
This story was updated on Sept. 19, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. to clarify that Planned Parenthood of Northern New England can apply for state family planning funding but not additional federal funding.
The state’s Family Planning Program, which provides more than 17,000 Granite Staters low-cost basic health care, such as STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and contraception, has lost three major providers under the Executive Council’s Republican majority.
The largest of those, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, has been able to resume those health services for its patients by going around the council, using federal money secured by Democratic Councilor Cinde Warmington and the federal delegation.
For the fifth time in two years, the Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to restore funding for the other two providers, Equality Health Center in Concord and Lovering Health Center in Greenland. The department posted its latest “request for proposals” seeking health care providers for its Family Planning Program last week.
The department is near certain to encounter continued opposition from the council’s Republicans.
“The Executive Council’s repeated votes against comprehensive family planning funding for our state’s health centers has taken a toll – and they threaten New Hampshire’s strong maternal health outcomes, including the lowest unintended pregnancies and teen pregnancy rates in the country,” said Sandi Denoncour, executive director of Lovering Health Center, in a statement. “Nonprofit organizations like ours cannot continue to shoulder the vast majority of the state’s family planning care obligations without state investment.”
Jinelle Hobson, executive director of Equality Health Center, urged the council’s Republicans to move beyond their “personal politics.” She said in a statement, “We urge councilors to consider the best interests of their constituents and our state’s public health infrastructure.”
To qualify for federal Title X funding, a clinic must offer a broad scope of services that also include assistance to become pregnant; infertility services; and sexual health education.
Anyone can use the subsidized care through the Family Planning Program but priority is given to patients who are un- or under-insured; at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level; refugees; or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or use other sexuality or gender identifiers.
The Republican executive councilors, Joe Kenney, Ted Gatsas, David Wheeler, and Janet Stevens, have not opposed the Family Planning Program. They have objected to the fact that the three providers perform abortions, though state officials have said their audits confirmed none has used state or federal tax dollars to provide that care.
It is enough, some of the council’s Republicans have said, that the three agencies are paying utility bills that keep the lights and heat on in a room where abortions are performed. Gov. Chris Sununu has urged the council to support the contracts but only Warmington, the lone Democrat, has.
The council’s 4-1 defeat of the contracts initially left just four providers in the Family Planning Program, none in the Seacoast or western part of the state: Coos County Health in Berlin, CAP Belknap-Merrimack in Laconia, Amoskeag Health in Manchester, and Lamprey Health Care in Nashua.
The council funded the four because they don’t provide abortions, though they can refer patients seeking that care to clinics that do.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s return to the program last year via direct funding from the federal government expanded services to more of the state, including the Seacoast and western New Hampshire.
It is not eligible for this round of additional Title X dollars, said Jake Leon, department spokesperson. It could apply for state family planning money through this funding opportunity, however.
In a statement, Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, urged councilors to restore the funding.
“For more than two years, access to affordable, quality family planning care has been in jeopardy for thousands of Granite Staters because of four consecutive votes to defund New Hampshire’s most trusted reproductive health care providers,” Montgomery said. “There has never been a more critical time for the Executive Council to approve contracts with all New Hampshire family planning providers to ensure affordable access to birth control, cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment for our most vulnerable populations.”