Sununu joins Democrats as Executive Council okays Planned Parenthood funding

  • Chris Sununu (center) is seen moments after voting to approve a contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. ELIZABETH FRANTZ Monitor staff

  • Wearing pink shirts, Planned Parenthood supporters clap as Executive Councilor Joe Kenney looks down at the table following a vote to restore a Planned Parenthood contract during a meeting Wednesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the Executive Council meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. The Council voted 3-2 to restore a Planned Parenthood contract during the meeting. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Planned Parenthood supporters rally next to designated Executive Council parking spots outside the State House on Wednesday morning. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the Executive Council meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. The Council voted 3-2 to restore a Planned Parenthood contract during the meeting. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilor David Wheeler is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilor David Wheeler is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilors Chris Sununu, left, and Colin Van Ostern, joined Chris Pappas in a 3-2 vote to approve a contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England on Wednesday. Sununu, a Republican who is running for governor, reversed his position from a year ago when he voted against a similar contract.   —By ELLA NILSEN

  • Kat Dillon (right) leads a group of Planned Parenthood supporters in a rally next to designated Executive Council parking spots outside the State House on Wednesday morning, June 29, 2016, ahead of an Executive Council vote on restoring family planning funding to the state's Planned Parenthood clinics. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan shook hands with Planned Parenthood supporters outside the State House on Wednesday morning, June 29, 2016, ahead of an Executive Council vote on restoring family planning funding to the state's Planned Parenthood clinics. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Rep. Frank Edelblut speaks to members of the media outside the Executive Council meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. The Council voted 3-2 to restore a Planned Parenthood contract during the meeting. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Executive Council meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. The Council voted 3-2 to restore a Planned Parenthood contract during the meeting. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers speaks during the Executive Council meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. The Council voted 3-2 to restore a Planned Parenthood contract during the meeting. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilor Chris Pappas is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilor Chris Sununu is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilor Chris Sununu is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 6/29/2016 1:16:35 PM

An audible gasp was heard around the room as Executive Councilor Chris Sununu cast the deciding vote to fund Planned Parenthood on Wednesday morning.

In Executive Council chambers filled with Planned Parenthood supporters wearing pink shirts and anti-abortion activists sporting yellow “life” buttons, the councilors voted 3-2 to pass $638,000 in contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, as well as the Joan G. Lovering Center in Greenland. Wednesday’s vote was a reversal of the council’s decision last year to deny the organization funding.

Sununu, a Newfields Republican who is also running for governor, was the swing vote both times.

Sununu is pro-abortion rights and has previously voted in favor of Planned Parenthood contracts. However, last summer he voted to deny funding to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England as the national organization was embroiled in controversy over secret videos of national Planned Parenthood officials accused of discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

A grand jury recently cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and instead indicted the two people who made the videos on charges of using fake driver’s licenses to gain access to the organization’s meeting.

Sununu said the grand jury’s findings changed his mind about New Hampshire’s contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

“Those investigations are gone,” he said. “They’ve been debunked, so it’s time for us to move forward, do the right thing and make sure these funds are put out to help the women of the state.”

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said Wednesday that the Planned Parenthood contract was coming up a second time because there was still unused state money for family planning services.

In addition, the federal government is providing new matching dollars for these services, and Meyers said he hoped the state could leverage that.

“There was an additional incentive because it will be matched,” he said.

However, some councilors questioned why the vote was coming up again, less than a year after being struck down.

Speaking with reporters after the vote, Sununu laughed as he admitted the issue resurfacing was “politically inconvenient” for him.

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s meeting, Sununu had remained silent on how he intended to vote.

He said he read the contract carefully and listened to the calls and emails of his constituents before coming to a final decision.

“That’s exactly the job that I’m up here to do,” he said. “In the last couple days, I think I really started mulling over what the repercussions were.”

Sununu said he wouldn’t put politics over his duty to uphold the state’s Constitution and give every vendor equal consideration.

“There’s a public trust involved, and I’m not going to let politics stand between the importance of funds that go to help low-income women,” he said. “It would have been very politically convenient for me to cast a ‘no’ vote today. But that is not why the people of this state elected me as executive councilor.”

Sununu’s three fellow Republican gubernatorial candidates immediately hammered him for his “yes” vote.

Within minutes of the decision, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas issued a statement, saying Sununu had “betrayed New Hampshire taxpayers” and “turned his back on conservative grassroots activists.”

Gatsas is also pro-abortion rights, but has said he believes other community health organizations can provide women’s health care.

Fellow Republican candidates Jeanie Forrester and Frank Edelblut said their opposition to the vote was more on social issues. Both identify as anti-abortion.

“Conservatives cannot trust Chris Sununu,” Forrester said in a press release. “He just doesn’t get it.”

The three Democratic candidates for governor – Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, businessman Mark Connolly and former Portsmouth mayor Stephen Marchand – all applauded the vote. But Van Ostern and Marchand still took aim at Sununu, accusing him of flip-flopping and playing politics on the issue of women’s health.

Of the money approved Wednesday, about $540,000 will go to Planned Parenthood clinics in Keene, Claremont, Derry, Exeter and Manchester. The money will go to women’s health and family planning services; none of it will pay for abortions.

Planned Parenthood officials said the money will help the clinics hold longer hours and have more doctors available.

At the meeting, Sununu mostly kept his questions to Meyers about the state’s bidding process for women’s health services, saying he’d like it streamlined and easier for other providers to bid on state contracts.

But Republican Councilor Joe Kenney of Union and Gov. Maggie Hassan got into a testy exchange about Planned Parenthood after Kenney suggested the $639,000 be diverted to the state’s opioid crisis and supporting mental health, rather than women’s health.

“Somehow family planning services is not the crisis of the day,” Kenney said. “I would prefer that money be re-purposed toward the opioid crisis. To me, that’s where the priorities of the state are.”

Hassan noted the state Legislature has already put a lot of effort into appropriating money to deal with the drug crisis.

“There is nothing in the contract before us that crowds out our capacity to address additional challenges from the opioid crisis, or to determine if we want to fund additional treatment, prevention and recovery services with those funds,” Hassan said.

Hassan added that for some women, the situation of facing an unplanned pregnancy can be a crisis.

“We try to prevent women ever from being in a situation where they’re faced with an unplanned pregnancy,” Hassan said. “To suggest that is not a crisis for an individual woman is troubling to me.”

Looking around the room at the pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion activists surrounding her, Hassan said she believed that more choice for women’s health and family planning in the state would continue to reduce the rate of abortions.

“One of the things that unifies everybody in this room, we would all prefer if there were fewer abortions,” Hassan said.




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