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Family planning funding denied again to N.H. reproductive health centers

 Outside of the council meeting, people gathered in support of funding family planning services at health centers like Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Alli Fam
Outside of the council meeting, people gathered in support of funding family planning services at health centers like Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

For the fourth time in a year, Republicans on New Hampshire’s Executive Council blocked state funding for reproductive health centers that serve over 16,000 low-income Granite Staters.

“It is the equivalent to reducing access to health care services for low-income women,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette warned councilors ahead of the vote Wednesday.

The contracts at issue are meant to support STD testing, cancer screenings and family planning services.

While the Republican-controlled council approved funding for these services at four New Hampshire clinics — including Amoskeag Health and Coos County Family Health Services — they rejected funding for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Lovering Health Center in Greenland and Equality Health Center in Concord.

The lone Democrat on the council, Cinde Warmington of Concord, voted in favor.

While these contracts have been subject to heightened scrutiny in recent years, the funding has historically earned support from Republican and Democratic councilors. In the last year, however, Republican councilors have repeatedly refused to send this funding to clinics that also provide abortion services, despite reassurances from state officials that the money does not fund abortions.

An audit last year confirmed those findings.

 Wednesday's Executive Council meeting
Alli Fam
Wednesday's Executive Council meeting

Councilor Ted Gatsas, a Republican from Manchester, also raised concerns that the funding would expand access to Plan B, a form of emergency contraception, for people under age 18. But, as state officials explained, state law already allows this kind of access at pharmacies statewide.

Shibinette said the clinics losing out on funding as a result of the council’s vote provide the bulk of New Hampshire’s family planning services for low-income families.

“It is the equivalent to reducing access to health care services for low-income women."
Lori Shibinette, commissioner of N.H. Health and Human Services

In the absence of state funding, the health centers have continued to offer services to low-income patients but have sought out other sources of financial support. Equality Health Center, for example, turned to local donors and a grant from the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation to keep their services more affordable for patients in need of financial assistance.

But it’s unclear how sustainable those sources will be in the long term.

Patricia Tilley, director of the Division of Public Health Services for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, said the clinics this funding would have supported also play an important role tracking and preventing the spread of diseases that can be spread through sexual contact, like monkeypox.

“Our sexual health centers are really on the front lines for ensuring that we can get vaccine to folks and that there's screening and treatment for monkeypox,” Tilley said.

Copyright 2022 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

Alli Fam
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