Sununu, councilors accused of abandoning ‘bipartisan history’ of protecting reproductive care

By: - September 20, 2021 3:17 pm
Gov. Chris Sununu

When Gov. Chris Sununu put the contracts on Wednesday’s Executive Council agenda, he said he supported them and later called the vote a “huge mistake.” (Courtesy)

This story was updated on Sept. 20 at 5:30 p.m. to clarify that the delegation’s comments were made on Monday, Sept. 20.

Members of the federal delegation called on Gov. Chris Sununu and the state’s leading Republicans Monday to step up efforts to protect state and federal funding for the family planning centers that provide health care to 12,000 low-income Granite Staters and defeat the new 24-week abortion ban. 

The comments from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas came after a vote Wednesday by Executive Council Republicans to defund the three health care centers that provide 80 percent of that care. Councilors cited concern that public dollars were being used for the separate abortion services by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center, despite their compliance with a new state law requiring they prove to the state they are using private – not state or federal – funds to provide abortions.

“The bipartisan history of support for access to health care for women and for reproductive care in particular has been just clearly abandoned by this Executive Council and the Republican Party from top to bottom in this state,” Hassan said.

Shaheen said she “never thought I would see in New Hampshire, in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state, the action that we have seen from the Executive Council and the Legislature to attack women’s reproductive health.” Shaheen said Sununu could have held back the contracts until he had the votes to pass them or found alternative funding for the services, the majority of which are non-abortion related and include cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing and treatment, and pap smears. 

Kuster faulted Sununu for not defeating the 24-week abortion ban, which mandates ultrasounds for all abortions and criminal penalties for physicians who violate the law, that was tucked into the state budget. 

“He signed the budget and he clearly could have sent it back,” she said. 

Sununu has tried to distance himself from the 24-week ban, saying he did not ask for it and could not veto the whole budget over it. He has also said he would like to see the ultrasound requirement revisited in the next legislative session. 

When Sununu put the contracts on Wednesday’s Executive Council agenda, he said he supported them and later called the vote a “huge mistake.” Sununu said he was unable to get the contracts passed despite “twisting arms as much as I’ve tried to twist them, both publicly and behind the scenes.” 

“But it doesn’t mean that everything falls apart,” he said. “I mean, there are other ways to fund this. There are other organizations that can provide some of the services, just not with the dollars that were proposed today. People should know that doesn’t mean the services end in New Hampshire by any means.”

Immediately following the vote, the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation announced it was giving each of the three providers a $7,500 grant. The amount is a fraction of what each provider would have gotten in the defeated contracts, and directors of those organizations said Monday the council’s 4-1 vote has already negatively affected services

Dalia Vidunas, executive director of the Equality Health Center in Concord, said her agency will have to change its sliding-scale fees to reduce the number of people who qualify for discounts. Also gone will be the STD testing the center provides at no cost. Kayla Montgomery of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which has clinics statewide, said patients will wait longer for care and may see fewer services. 

Asked about the delegation’s comments, Sununu senior adviser Paul Collins called them “absolutely absurd and ridiculous propaganda.”

“I would remind you that Chris Sununu has supported and brought forward these family planning contracts at every opportunity since becoming governor,” Collins said in a written statement. “Sen. Hassan hiding behind Sen. Shaheen’s rhetoric is the mark of sheer desperation from a campaign consistently losing in the polls to a hypothetical candidate. Had she been in the state for the last five years, Sen. Hassan would know Granite Staters will not buy these lies.”

Other top Republican officials, including state House and Senate communications officials and Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who engineered a budget compromise to protect family planning funding if providers could show no public money paid for abortions, did not return messages seeking comment.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]