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Council rejects Planned Parenthood contract



Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England isn't taking 'no' for an answer.

On Wednesday, the state Executive Council voted 3-2 to reject a contract with the family planning group. Councilor Dan St. Hilaire of Concord was the deciding vote on the all-Republican council, saying he feels the state should not fund an organization that provides abortions.

Steve Trombley, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said his group is still pursuing the $1.8 million, two-year contract.

"We obviously don't believe this is a settled issue at this point," he said. "We intend to challenge this at every level we can possibly challenge it."

Beyond asking the council to rehear its request, Trombley said the organization is looking into filing a lawsuit.

"We feel that we're on solid ground," he said. "It is simply not possible to deny funding to an organization because they provide a constitutionally protected service."

Trombley said it's too early to know how the loss of the contract - which is 32 percent state money, 68 percent federal grant - will affect Planned Parenthood's six centers in New Hampshire. The $930,000 per year accounts for about 20 percent of the $5 million the group budgets annually for the state, he said.

"What we can say for sure is that, without this funding, we will not be able to serve the 16,000 families and women (in New Hampshire) that we serve right now," Trombley said. "Whether that happens because we shut down centers or we scale back centers - a lot of that's being looked at as we speak."

Trombley said the organization's abortion practice is entirely privately funded, with audits to make sure no public money is used in that area.

St. Hilaire, who described himself as "pro-life," said the fact that public money doesn't directly subsidize Planned Parenthood's abortions is only "an argument regarding how they keep their books." The contract should go to an organization that has no connection to the abortion business, he said.

"Government shouldn't be involved in telling any woman what they should be doing with their own bodies, they should stay out of that," St. Hilaire said. "On the flipside, taxpayers should not be required to fund an organization that provides abortions."

Trombley said abortions make up 3 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which is headquartered in Vermont and also operates in Maine. Last year in New Hampshire, the organization said it provided 6,112 breast exams, 5,548 cervical cancer screenings, 18,858 tests for sexually transmitted infections and served 13,242 with contraceptive care.

Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields, a pro-choice Republican, said he was "not thrilled about the abortion aspect" of Planned Parenthood, but didn't believe that was a reason to deny a contract for a program that provides "incredibly important services to the state."

"It wasn't politically helpful to me, but it's what I believe in my gut," Sununu said.

Sununu said the Planned Parenthood contract "was not unlike many of the other contracts that were approved" Wednesday. The council okayed 10 other contracts on the agenda.

St. Hilaire said he would also prefer the money go to an organization headquartered in New Hampshire. And Trombley's $250,000 annual salary is abnormally high compared with other health care groups funded by the council, he said.

Trombley said he was hired by a professional recruiting firm that based his salary on the going rate for similar positions, and running a three-state program allows the organization to reduce costs. As evidence, Planned Parenthood receives 40 percent of New Hampshire's family planning funding but sees more than 50 percent of the patients, he said.

"We don't make money at our health centers," Trombley said. "In fact, particularly in New Hampshire our health centers lose money already operationally and that's subsidized by private dollars."

Trombley said he doesn't know of another organization in New Hampshire that has the infrastructure in place to provide the same level of services as Planned Parenthood with the $1.8 million available. Family planning programs are heavily regulated, he said, and "it's not easy to just pick up and start one of these programs,"

St. Hilaire said when there's a void in the marketplace, someone usually steps up.

"It's the chicken and the egg argument," he said. "People who have contracts say you have to fund us because we're the only one who can do it. But the only reason they can do it is because they got funding in the first place."

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)