Family planning contracts going back before Executive Council

By: - January 10, 2022 1:17 pm
Executive Council chambers

The Executive Council meets again on Wednesday. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The twice-rejected family planning contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and two other low-income reproductive health care providers are going back before the Executive Council Wednesday. It was unclear Monday whether that suggests some councilors are reconsidering their votes on the contracts that failed both times in 4-1 votes.

In the past, Gov. Chris Sununu, who sets the agenda, has brought back contracts when he’s secured enough votes to get them passed, as he did with a $22.5 million federal contract for the state’s vaccine work. 

After rejecting that contract, 4-1, in October, Republican Councilors Joe Kenney, Janet Stevens, and David Wheeler reversed course and joined Democratic Councilor Cinde Warmington to pass it a month later.

Sununu has said he supports the family planning contracts for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Lovering Health Center, and the Equality Health Center, which together provide 70 percent of the state’s reproductive health care to low-income Granite Staters. 

All four of the council’s Republican members rejected the contracts in September and again last month.

Sununu’s office did not return a request for comment. 

The difference this time may be that Health and Human Services has completed its report identifying issues it flagged during newly required audits as well as the providers’ plans to resolve them. 

While the report wasn’t complete before the last meeting, Meredith Telus, director of program planning and integrity at the Department of Health and Human Services, told councilors the flagged issues were administrative in nature and not a concern the providers were misusing public funding. The directors of the three agencies said they were asked to do things like computerize their payroll records and spell out rather than abbreviate references in their handbooks. 

Stevens and Kenney, however, raised questions about the audit report, saying they would have liked to have had it before voting. Kenney unsuccessfully tried to postpone a vote on the contracts until the report was ready. In an email to the Bulletin following the most recent vote, Stevens said she believed the contracts had been tabled.

Stevens and Kenney could not be reached Monday.

Wheeler and Councilor Ted Gatsas seem the least likely to change their votes. They have consistently cited objections unrelated to the audits: the availability of the morning-after contraception pill to teenagers without parental consent and a belief that public funding is being used for abortion care. (The Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General John Formella have said state audits have shown that to be untrue.)

The three providers are the only agencies to submit bids to provide reproductive health care to low-income residents, according to Health and Human Services.

The loss of the contracts, which they’ve held for years, will mean fewer services, longer wait times, and fewer people qualifying for reduced-cost care.

“The Executive Council’s multiple irresponsible votes in 2021 caused six months of lost funding for reproductive health centers, dismantled New Hampshire’s state family planning program, and jeopardized access to care for 12,000 Granite Staters during a pandemic,” said Liz Canada, advocacy manager for public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “It’s time for Councilors Kenney, Stevens, Gatsas, and Wheeler to listen to their constituents and to state public health officials and restore vital family planning funding for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center.”

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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.