Planned Parenthood contract divides Executive Council candidates
A little more than two years after executive councilors sparked a political firestorm by rejecting federal money for Planned Parenthood, the new Executive Council is expected to resume the contract today without argument. The divide now is between the two candidates running to succeed the late Ray Burton as the District 1 executive councilor.
Neither candidate will vote on this contract but their positions have become an issue in the election, and the winner will have to vote on future contracts for Planned Parenthood.
Democrat Mike Cryans of Hanover said he views the $900,000 contract, which would cover birth control, health exams and cancer screenings for low-income women and families, as a “health care bill.” Cryans said he’d support the contract.
Wakefield Republican Joe Kenney’s position was less clear. In a brief interview yesterday, Kenney said he had not read the contract but would look at it and call a Monitor reporter back with his thoughts. Kenney instead had his campaign manager, Casey Crane, return the call, and she said Kenney wants to investigate whether any of the contract’s money would pay for abortions, even indirectly.
The contract, which would also provide money to the Concord Feminist Health Center in Concord and a health center in Portsmouth, does not cover abortions. But Crane, like the three Republican councilors who opposed the contract in 2011, said the contract still sends federal money to a facility that provides abortions.
“Joe has a 14-year pro-life record and he’s never supported . . . taxpayer support for abortion,” Crane said. “(Kenney) needs to take a look at (the contract) because some of our constituents would think you are paying for a nurse to do one thing, and (the nurse) goes and does something else. His vote would be in keeping with that record.”
In 2007, when he was a state senator, Kenney was one of seven Republicans to vote for a bill that would have similarly defunded Planned Parenthood by prohibiting state money to Planned Parenthood and any other facility that provided abortions, even if the money covered nonabortion health care. That bill failed, 17-7.
The District 1 seat up for grabs represents the North Country and several local towns including New London, Sanbornton, Andover and Tilton. The election is March 11.
The same questions drove the debate before the 2011 Executive Council vote, when three then-Republican councilors – Dan St. Hilaire of Concord, David Wheeler of Milford and Ray Wieczorek of Manchester – voted down the federal contract for Planned Parenthood. At the time, Planned Parenthood officials said abortions accounted for 3 percent of the organization’s services and that all abortions are paid for privately.
Planned Parenthood, with the help of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, got the federal money three months later when the federal government provided the money directly, without going through the state. But the Republicans who voted against the contract faced significant criticism, especially St. Hilaire. St. Hilaire chose not to seek re-election, and his seat is now held by Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat who campaigned in part against St. Hilaire’s vote.
New Councilors Debra Pignatelli of Keene, who replaced Wheeler, and Christopher Pappas of Manchester, who replaced Wieczorek, also supported the Planned Parenthood contract in their campaigns. And the fourth councilor, Republican Chris Sununu of Newfields, joined Burton in voting for the contract in 2011.
Van Ostern said yesterday that he expects the contract to pass, 4-0, today. He said until 2011, the contract had never been considered a political or ideological issue and the contract’s passage today would resume that practice.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)