Family planning contracts vote ripples through New Hampshire politics

Aug. 1—After last week’s vote by the Executive Council to deny reproductive health contracts to the state’s largest family planning clinics, the reverberations are reaching campaigns in both parties.

The state contracts in question pay for services like breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections and birth control for low-income people and those without health insurance, but the money is not used for abortions.

The council has voted four times in the last year to deny contracts to Planned Parenthood and clinics in Concord and Greenland, while approving contracts with other, smaller clinics, because Planned Parenthood, the Equality Health Center of Concord and the Joan G. Lovering Health Center of Greenland also provide abortion services.

The contracts have become an increasingly partisan issue over the last decade, while Democrats have presented themselves as supporting the contracts.

Democratic candidate for governor, state Sen. Tom Sherman, was outside the Executive Council meeting last week, waving signs with a small group of demonstrators who favored the contracts.

The Sherman campaign announced endorsements from former Democratic Executive Councilors Colin van Ostern, Deborah Pignatelli and Dudley Dudley last week after the vote, drawing a contrast between the three former councilors and the four Republicans who sit on the council now, all of whom voted against giving contracts to clinics that also provide abortion services.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a political arm of Planned Parenthood, announced its endorsement of four Democrats seeking to be elected to the Executive Council, and of Cinde Warmington, the council’s lone Democratic member, who is seeking reelection.

Though Gov. Chris Sununu supported the contracts, Sherman’s campaign also sought to tie Sununu to the Republican councilor’s votes against the contracts. Sherman’s campaign has said it sees abortion rights as a potentially winning issue.

Sununu’s office said last week that the governor and health and human services commissioner have sought to persuade the councilors to vote for the contracts, but Sununu said he would continue to campaign for the Republican councilors’ reelection.

On the Republican side, one of the candidates running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate has seized on another candidate’s support of the contracts.

Though the funding is not for abortions, and state audits have shown the money is not used for abortions or commingled with abortion funds, Kevin Smith, former Londonderry town manager and former director of conservative Christian policy advocacy group Cornerstone Action, sought to paint state Senate President Chuck Morse as pro-abortion rights because he voted to accept funding for the contracts, as a member of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.

Smith emailed supporters Wednesday with a statement from New Hampshire Right to Life Chair Barbara Hagan, who called Morse’s vote “disqualifying,” and repeated the line of attack on a radio interview on Friday.

Morse campaign manager Joe Sweeney called the claim “desperate” in an emailed statement. Sweeney explained the fiscal committee votes to accept funding to New Hampshire, but not on which vendors receive contracts, so Morse did not vote to send any funding to Planned Parenthood. Sweeney also noted Morse’s vote to prohibit abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, and a prohibition on New Hampshire using state funds to pay for abortions for poor women.