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Friday, September 9, 2011

Feds to oversee NH family planning

CONCORD – The Obama administration is taking over the award of specific family planning contracts following the Executive Council’s rejection of contracts for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas said his federal counterparts will move quickly to choose vendors for those parts of the state formerly covered by Planned Parenthood.

“We believe, but have no formal communication that these activities will take no more than a week,” Toumpas wrote in a memo obtained by The Telegraph. “As we have relinquished the funds, we have no say in this matter.”

Despite the council’s action, Toumpas said Planned Parenthood is a viable bidder to win a federal contract.

“I don’t have anything in writing. This is based on conversations,” Toumpas later told reporters.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood officials expressed optimism it will continue providing family planning services in these areas.

“PPNNE continues to work through appropriate agencies to ensure that funding is available to support the health care needs of the 16,000 women, men and teens who depend on Planned Parenthood health care,” said Jennifer Frizell, a spokeswoman for the group.

New Hampshire became a battleground in the national fight of social conservatives against Planned Parenthood in June when the Executive Council voted, 3-2, to reject a $1.8 million contract.

Planned Parenthood is the provider for the regions around Manchester, Keene, Derry, Exeter, Claremont and West Lebanon.

Another provider, Child Family Services, does offer these services in Manchester for clients who are up to 21 years old.

In August, Toumpas informed federal officials the state would turn down the Title X family planning money in Planned Parenthood’s territory. This set in motion the federal response, to issue a request for proposal for the federal government to administer these services.

Critics on the council opposed Planned Parenthood because abortions are performed at their clinics.

Federal law prevent family planning money from being used for abortions. At Planned Parenthood, abortions are either paid for with health insurance or private payment.

The family planning money is used for services like cervical cancer screenings, breast exams and the treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford said he’s contacting the state’s congressional delegation to see if Congress can help block the awarding of contracts for Planned Parenthood.

“It’s an outrage that the federal government would be so arrogant as to move forward in this matter,” Wheeler said.

Bath Republican Councilor Raymond Burton believes the federal government ultimately will contract with Planned Parenthood.

“I would much rather see local groups supported by local and state officials but as a council we failed to act so now the federal government is stepping in,’” Burton said. “I’ve got 3,400 people in my district whose services were put at risk so my top priority is seeing to it that those folks get what they need.”

Toumpas said there’s no “guarantee” Planned Parenthood would end up with these federal contracts.

State officials who inquired found that family planning providers in other parts of the state were not interested in taking over Planned Parenthood’s territory however, Toumpas added.

“There was not a well spring of interest from others,” Toumpas said. “These programs by themselves are not money makers.”

Councilors opposed to Planned Parenthood had urged Toumpas to find vendors to replace the group.

Manchester Republican Councilor Raymond Wieczorek held out some hope the council’s position on Planned Parenthood would be respected.

“If the federal government steps in and awards these contracts to Planned Parenthood despite the council’s position, I’d say that’s a pretty heavy hand,” Wieczorek said. “I’m hoping Commissioner Toumpas will do all he can to assert the state’s role in all of this.”

Toumpas stressed Thursday the state no longer has any say in the delivery of family planning services in these areas.

“It’s out of our hands,” he added.

Last month, Planned Parenthood stopped issuing birth control pills and other contraception in response to the council’s actions.

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Lawsuits in response to similar state moves have already been launched in Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina.

Democratic activist Colin Van Ostern of Concord announced this week he would run for the seat held by Concord Republican Dan St. Hilaire.

Van Ostern said St. Hilaire’s vote against Planned Parenthood was a factor in Van Ostern’s decision to run for the Dist. 2 council seat in 2012.

“Today’s news is a perfect example of why we can’t afford an Executive Council bent on pushing a radical social agenda, as it has done this summer,” Van Ostern said in a statement.

“The result is a band-aid solution managed by the federal government instead of a nonparitsan, permanent solution managed right here in New Hampshire as it has been for 30 years.

“The news is certainly a far better outcome than a full shutdown of health care centers in our state, but it does nothing for the over 3,700 women who had their access to basic, preventive health care restricted in recent months – and it unfortunately it makes future care dependent on the political wishes of the White House, not on what’s best for New Hampshire communities.”

Even in advance of the Obama administration’s final decision, the anti-abortion, Susan B. Anthony List condemned the federal government’s move.

“President Obama has proven time and again that he will do whatever it takes to ensure that Planned Parenthood continues to receive taxpayer subsidies, even if that means going around a state’s elected representatives,” said SusanB. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“Obama is the most pro-abortion President in our country’s history and his allegiance to Planned Parenthood is unwavering.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter.