RNC committeeman Steve Duprey faces backlash for pro-choice stance, appearance at Planned Parenthood event

Last modified: 5/7/2015 12:26:47 AM
New Hampshire Republicans tend to have a reputation for being less socially conservative than their peers in other key presidential primary states.

Take the results of a recent Suffolk University poll: More Republicans who were surveyed here identified as “pro-choice” than “pro-life” (48.6 to 41 percent), and more said they favored same-sex marriage than opposed it (43 to 38.8 percent).

But, as pointed out by a recent article in the Boston Globe , the debate over these issues is far from settled within the New Hampshire Republican ranks. As the headline on that story summed things up, “For GOP hopefuls in N.H., a tricky line on social issues.”

Tricky, indeed. Just ask Steve Duprey.

One of New Hampshire’s most prominent Republican activists and the state’s current national committeeman, Duprey apologized yesterday for showing up – however briefly or accidentally – at a local Planned Parenthood fundraiser last week.

The Globe article had referenced Duprey as an example of a pro-abortion rights Republican and reported that he had recently “attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser with the group’s national president.” That passing reference triggered criticism on social media and other local websites, including Granite Grok and Leaven For The Loaf, which focuses on anti-abortion issues.

Yesterday, New Hampshire Right to Life Political Action Fund called for Duprey’s removal as the state’s member of the Republican National Committee, referencing his reported attendance at the Planned Parenthood fundraiser and his pro-abortion rights stance in general. Others, meanwhile, viewed his association with Planned Parenthood as problematic because the organization’s political work tends to heavily support Democratic candidates and target Republicans.

In a statement provided by email yesterday afternoon, Duprey said he didn’t realize what the event would entail ahead of time and characterized his appearance as a “mistake.”

“For the past 43 years I have strongly supported both pro-life and pro-choice Republicans. I have been honest about my personal position on this issue and deeply respect the views of those who disagree with me,” Duprey wrote. “However, I realize that I made a mistake by appearing at an event for a political action committee that targets Republicans. I was not fully aware of the nature of the event in advance, and regret my attendance. I remain fully committed to working to elect more Republican candidates in 2016.”

Duprey declined to answer additional questions, saying he would prefer to stick to the statement. In the Globe story, Duprey made a point of emphasizing that his stance hasn’t interfered with his work to support Republican candidates.

“I am a ‘Live Free or Die’ Republican,” Duprey told the Globe. “Where I have a personal difference in the party platform, I don’t trumpet it and I don’t make a big deal about it.”

The event at the center of all of this, hosted at the home of Ben and Karina Kelley in Concord last Thursday, was billed publicly as “a reception to help protect the political landscape for reproductive health” leading up to the 2016 elections. But Ben Kelley said he also reached out to personally invite a handful of other friends – including Duprey, whom he considers a mentor despite their different political leanings.

“I think that’s what’s great about New Hampshire politics, we can cross the aisle and still have friendships,” Kelley said. “And I think this is a shame that it’s blown into what this has.”

While the event was advertised as a fundraiser featuring Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, donations weren’t mandatory for everyone in attendance, according to several guests.

And according to Kelley, Duprey only stayed for part of the event. The tone of the speeches at the event, Kelley said, was more politically pointed and “a little more aggressive than (Duprey) was expecting.”

While Kelley acknowledged that the political arm of Planned Parenthood “tends to lean heavily Democratic,” he also pointed out that organization’s work on health services is supported by New Hampshire residents from a variety of political backgrounds.

At the state level, the Planned Parenthood action fund has supported Republican legislators during past election cycles. At the national level, the organization has also publicly applauded some Republican politicians who support access to abortion and family planning services.

“Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund both receive generous support from New Hampshire donors across the political spectrum – Republicans, independents and Democrats alike,” said the groups’ policy director Jennifer Frizzell, who also attended last week’s fundraiser.

The action fund, Frizzell explained, is “the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire.”

“We defend and protect access to reproductive care in the legislature and we work in a non-partisan manner to help elect candidates who support access to affordable, comprehensive women’s health care, including safe, legal abortion,” Frizzell said in an emailed statement.

To some, though, it wasn’t just that Duprey associated himself with Planned Parenthood. The state party platform has long affirmed an anti-abortion stance, and it was updated last fall to include added emphasis on protecting the “pre-born child’s fundamental right to life and personhood under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The platform is hardly representative of the party as a whole: Candidates like Walt Havenstein and Scott Brown were not “anti-abortion” in the strictest sense when running for governor and U.S. Senate last fall, and other politically active Republicans have similarly distanced themselves from the party’s stance on abortion, among other issues.

Still, the issues aren’t so easily dismissed by everyone.

New Hampshire Right To Life’s political action committee raised concerns about Duprey’s views in relation to his role as the head of the RNC’s debate committee.

“Sitting as Chairman of this (debate) committee, NH Republicans should be concerned about how Mr. Duprey’s personal pro-choice standing will shape the Presidential debates,” New Hampshire Right to Life Political Action Committee Chairwoman Darlene Pawlik wrote in a press release. Duprey, she added, “is not the representative New Hampshire needs to support either the New Hampshire or the National GOP platform, both of which support pro-life principles.”

In a statement, New Hampshire Republican State Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Horn noted that the state party is “proudly and strongly pro-life” but welcomes Republicans who hold different views.

“We will continue to be a voice for the most vulnerable among us and we appreciate that Steve admitted that he made a mistake in regard to this event,” Horn said.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Duprey. The story has been updated.

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


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