My Turn: Family planning program is good for public health

For the Monitor
Published: 4/17/2021 9:00:15 AM

This week 199 state representatives voted to strip away necessary health care services from low income Granite Staters. During a pandemic.

As we’re working to recover from a pandemic that has devastated public health in our communities, these representatives voted to take away birth control, cancer screenings and STD testing and treatment from those who already face the greatest barriers to care.

Perhaps most disappointing? The House GOP majority has made it their mission this year to undermine our state’s positive public health outcomes by pushing an unprecedented array of extreme anti-reproductive health care measures. Yet what makes this budget particularly outrageous is that it defies decades of bipartisan support for family planning services to instead push an extremist political agenda.

The budget that passed completely dismantles New Hampshire’s Family Planning Program, which has for decades used state funds to provide preventive care, like cancer screenings, to low income Granite Staters. This program is good for public health and good for health equity. And yet some lawmakers are so zealously against abortion rights that they are willing to sabotage public health in the pursuit of banning access to safe, legal abortion.

The proponents of this budget like to intentionally single out Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. But the reality, perhaps unknown even to writers of this budget, is that multiple organizations in our state’s family planning program would be defunded, including Equality Health Center right here in our community.

The providers directly affected by this served 12,000 Granite Staters for family planning services last year. Without state funding, basic health care services are in jeopardy. Proponents of dismantling the family planning program claim that money is “fungible” and that there’s no way to know if state funds go to family planning or to abortion care. Let me be very clear: that is not how this works.

Reproductive health centers that provide abortion care have systems in place and they are regularly audited to ensure that funding is segregated. What is so infuriating is that these elected officials know that. They know what they’re pushing is a total myth because of the basic rules of auditing these services.

We heard this budget’s supporters claim that the providers could easily just comply with a requirement to “physically and financially” separate their family planning services from their abortion services, but truthfully, they know that these requirements are impossible to comply with. The requirements are intentionally designed to push specific providers out of the program.

There are innumerable questions about how this policy would work in practice. Would these providers have to separate staff? Facilities? Properties? It would be impossible to accomplish this “separation” in a manner that would preserve the delivery of services in an efficient and cost-effective manner. This section of the state budget undermines the entire purpose of these providers who provide free or discounted care to those who need it.

Abortion services generally account for only about 6 to 7% of overall services. The additional costs to run another facility for such a small volume of services would greatly impact the cost for patients. Having a separate facility just for abortion would also guarantee constant and increased harassment and safety risks for patients accessing safe, legal care.

These requirements aren’t really about expecting these locations to have physically separate locations. The intent is to close down these providers entirely. They are willing to defund the entire family planning program to do so, risking public health outcomes during a pandemic. Luckily, the budget process isn’t over.

Dismantling the family planning program during a pandemic is bad news for public health.

(Katherine Rogers of Concord represents Merrimack District 28 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)

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