Council votes to restore funding for one family planning clinic
Funding was restored for one family planning clinic, but that still leaves more than 70 percent of the reproductive health care services for low-income residents defunded. Unlike Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center in Concord (pictured), and Lovering Health Center, the Community Action Program of Belknap and Merrimack Counties does not provide abortions. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
One of the family planning clinics defunded by the Executive Council last month saw its funding restored Wednesday after Councilor Janet Stevens reversed course and supported it. In doing so, Stevens praised the clinic’s broad, low-cost medical services, details that were discussed at length prior to her no vote last month.
But that still leaves more than 70 percent of the reproductive health care services for low-income residents defunded and some parts of the state with no low-cost family planning care at all.
The Community Action Program of Belknap and Merrimack Counties saw its retroactive contract, which pays for already-delivered care, defunded in mid-September when the council voted it down with three other contracts over concerns about public money being used for abortions. State officials confirmed no public dollars are used for abortions, and unlike Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center, the Community Action Program program does not provide abortions.
In reversing her vote on the Community Action Program contract Wednesday, which makes up about 72 percent of its funding, Stevens noted the clinic provides basic reproductive care, which includes mammograms, birth control, and sexually transmitted disease treatment, to low-income patients, but also ensures they have access to primary care services.
“For a small clinic, they’re doing incredible work,” she said.
Stevens did not return a message seeking comment on why that information persuaded her to support the contract this week but not last month. The other two votes for the contract came from Councilors Cinde Warmington and Joe Kenney.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center, which cover more than 70 percent of low-cost family planning care in the state, remain defunded. They have said the lost income will lead to longer wait times, an increase in costs for some patients, and fewer services. It also leaves no low-cost family planning care in Sullivan and Cheshire counties, where Planned Parenthood was the lone provider. That will leave patients looking for a new provider, a challenge with the current workforce shortage, and possibly traveling farther to get care.
The Legislature set aside $50,000 in the budget to incentivize other health care providers who do not provide abortion care to take over the low-cost reproductive care provided by those three agencies. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told councilors Wednesday her office has issued requests for proposals and hopes to bring contracts to the council for approval by the end of the year.
Kristine Stoddard, director of public policy in New Hampshire for the Bi-State Primary Care Association, doesn’t believe there are health care providers with the capacity to fill the gap. She said there have not been an abundance of providers seeking these family planning contracts in the past.
“You are disproportionately affecting lower income Granite Staters when you deny these contracts unnecessarily,” she said. “And you are disproportionately affecting women.”
The state Family Planning Program relies on nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood, Equality Health Center, Lovering Health Center, and other agencies that were awarded contracts, she said. “These contracts have a long-term impact on their ability to function,” Stoddard said. “And most importantly, on their patients’ ability to access care.”
Warmington asked at Wednesday’s meeting that the contracts for those three providers be on the agenda of all future council meetings “until they are passed.”
Overcoming the 4-1 votes against them won’t be easy. Councilor Ted Gatsas is opposed to funding for any clinic that makes the morning after pill available to people under 18 without parental consent. (He’s not been persuaded by arguments that contraception is available at local pharmacies, also without parental consent.) Councilors David Wheeler and Joe Kenney remain unconvinced that no state dollars are being used for abortion. Stevens’s position has been less clear; after she voted against the contracts in September, she said they lacked sufficient detail.
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