The Bulletin Board

Delegation urges federal officials to expedite reversal of ‘gag rule’ on family planning providers

By: - September 22, 2021 5:43 pm
Planned Parenthood sign on the side of a brick building

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – as well as Equality Health Center and Lovering Health Center – lost two significant sources of funding this year. (Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images)

Citing the Executive Council’s vote to defund the state’s three largest low-cost reproductive health care providers, the federal delegation has asked federal officials to expedite reversal of a Trump-era “gag rule” that is preventing the providers from accessing alternative funds.

“Further delay in the approval process will result in prolonged funding shortfalls for family planning providers and limited access to vital health care for Granite Staters,” read the letter released Wednesday by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s office and signed by Sen. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas. “We urge the [Office of Management and Budget] to expeditiously approve the Title X rule change to prevent further damage to the reproductive health care and family planning systems in our state.”

The three providers – Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center – lost two significant sources of funding this year, hits they say will force them to limit the cancer screenings, birth control, and STD testing and treatment they provide to 12,000 low-income Granite Staters.

The most recent came last week, when the Executive Council’s four Republicans rejected contracts that would have reimbursed them $300,000 for health care services they’ve already provided. (Gov. Chris Sununu, who supports the contracts, raised the possibility Tuesday of a new vote after learning two of the four councilors said they voted down the contracts because they needed more information.)

The providers also lost crucial funding during the budget session, when the Republican-controlled Legislature cut from the budget $1.2 million in stopgap family planning funding. The money would have replaced federal funding lost under the Trump administration’s Title X “gag rule,” which prohibits providers from doing abortions and referring patients to abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood, Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center perform abortions but do so with private funds, not taxpayer dollars. Rather than limit services to patients, they declined the money, as did several other health providers in the state’s family planning program. 

The councilors cited various reasons for denying the payments: a disbelief the providers are using only private money for abortions; the availability of the morning-after pill to teenagers without parental consent; and a desire for more details in the contracts, which totaled about 2,000 pages.

The council voted on Sept. 15, however, to approve contracts for the other centers, which do not provide abortions but do refer patients to abortion providers.

In June, Shaheen wrote a letter to the secretary of Health and Human Services asking for the Title X money to be replaced while the rule change was pending. That did not happen.

The Biden administration said in April it supports reversing the “gag” order and has set aside $50 million from the American Rescue Plan to replace the lost funding. But the federal Office of Management and Budget must first approve the rule change. 

In its letter, the federal delegation said doing so immediately is urgent.

“It is vital that the proposed rule change be approved and take effect immediately,” the letter said. “This gag rule poses a serious threat to access to sexual and reproductive health services in New Hampshire and across the country.”

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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.

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