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Effort to strip funding from Planned Parenthood, similar agencies on the horizon again

Last modified: 12/22/2014 12:27:00 AM
Women’s health agencies and their supporters, including Gov. Maggie Hassan, are bracing for yet another attempt to strip state funding for Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions.

Rep. Warren Groen, a Republican from Rochester, plans to introduce a bill that would “ban public funding going to any organization or group that does abortions or refers for abortions.” Groen filed a legislative service request for a bill “prohibiting the use of public funds for abortion services,” and he said it’s currently being drafted. Groen said he has a long history of opposing abortion and has assisted crisis pregnancy centers.

“Imagine how poverty-stricken the state has to be, when in order for women to get health care they have to reach out to an organization that kills babies for a living?” Groen said. “How poverty-stricken do you have to be? That’s scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

This issue is nothing new. Groen was one of several legislators who backed a previous attempt to do essentially the same thing. Introduced in 2011, that bill – with a title that was near-identical to the current one – passed the House of Representatives the following year but was tabled in the Senate. Funding for Planned Parenthood has also been the subject of recurring debate in the Executive Council.

During her campaign for re-election, Hassan repeatedly underscored her support for abortion access and warned against future attempts to undermine women’s reproductive care.

Now that she’s secured her seat for another two years, she’s gearing up to oppose measures like Groen’s. An email from her campaign, sent to supporters Tuesday afternoon, tried to drum up signatures for a petition: “Tell the far right to keep their hands off funding for women’s health services!”

Another email from Hassan’s campaign yesterday morning said that “more than 1,700” had joined the effort and encouraged supporters to continue to spread the word on the issue. The Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund PAC endorsed Hassan in both her 2012 and 2014 gubernatorial bids.

The representative, for his part, wasn’t surprised to hear the governor was rallying opposition to his legislation.

“They’re kissing cousins,” Groen said of Planned Parenthood and Democratic politicians.

He contended, furthermore, that “there’s no critical care being done by these groups” – or at least none that “can’t be done by any public health clinic, hospital, community health clinic.”

According to its most recently annual report, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – which operates health centers in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine – saw 42,649 patients for a total of 65,096 visits in 2013. Patients sought out abortion in 6 percent of those cases. As for the remaining services, according to the report: 54 percent were family planning, counseling or contraception; 17 percent were annual exams, cancer screening and treatment; 15 percent were sexually-transmitted infections testing and treatment; 7 percent were pregnancy testing; and 1 percent was transgender care.

In New Hampshire, there are five Planned Parenthood health centers: in Manchester, Keene, Exeter, Derry and Claremont. Only the Manchester location performs surgical abortions, according to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Vice President for Public Policy Jennifer Frizzell. Medical abortions, which use drugs, are offered in Manchester and Keene, she said.

The Concord Feminist Health Center, which offers both medical and surgical abortions, would also likely be affected by the proposed ban. The center – along with Planned Parenthood and the Joan G Lovering Health Center in Greenland – won a two-year contract with the state in January to boost family planning services. The Concord center is slated to receive $73,218 between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Planned Parenthood is receiving $737,586, and the Portsmouth health center is receiving $89,214, according to the contract approved by the executive council.

Frizzell said the money Planned Parenthood of Northern New England receives from the state and federal government pays for “preventative care like family planning, cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing” and other services outside of abortion. Dalia Vidunas, executive director of the Concord Feminist Health Center, said all abortions at her agency are funded either by the patient or donations that have been specifically allocated for those services.

Abortions as a percentage of the center’s overall services have been on the decline in recent years, she said – she estimates they make up about 30 percent. The health center sees about 2,000 patients a year, Vidunas said. Because of the money it received from the state, Vidunas said, the center has been able to hire an outreach worker to visit schools and other organizations to talk about family planning options – “from abstinence up through different methods of birth control.”

It’s important, Vidunas said, for the public to understand that the center does “so much more” than abortions.

“We just want to be here for our patients in whatever way is best for them,” she said.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)


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