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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Family planning contracts OK’d

CONCORD – With relative lightning speed, the Obama administration awarded family planning contracts to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England despite the state Executive Council’s vote against the group.

Federal officials approved Tuesday a non-competitive, sole-source contract for Planned Parenthood to continue supplying so-called Title X family planning services through the end of November 2012.

The federal grant totals more than $1 million, and politically, it resolves this controversy until after the next presidential election.

In its notice of award, federal officials said they had to act quickly because the Executive Council had left 16,000 families without services that range from birth control to exams for breast or cervical cancer.

“There is an urgent need to reinstate services with an experienced provider that is familiar with the provision of Title X family planning services and applicable laws, regulations and administrative requirements, and has a history of successfully providing services in these areas of the state,” said the contract award announcement.

PPNNE runs six clinics that cover areas around Manchester, West Lebanon, Keene, Claremont, Exeter and Derry.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wasted no time praising the decision.

“Women in every part of the state deserve access to affordable reproductive health services, and Planned Parenthood is a critical provider of those services in our state,” Shaheen said in a statement.

“These clinics also provide vital preventive care, such as screenings for breast and cervical cancer. In some parts of New Hampshire, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of these preventive services to low-income women. I am glad the federal government has stepped up to provide this new contract, so that women in every part of New Hampshire will have somewhere to turn for basic health issues.”

Shaheen is a former governor and a longtime leader in the abortion rights movement in New Hampshire and nationally.

Shaheen revealed that she had written Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to take this unusual step early last week.

Planned Parenthood President Steve Trombley said the federal decision is vindication for the organization that has struggled to deal with the council’s vote.

“These actions affirm that PPNNE is the most qualified provider for patients seeking family planning and other preventive care in many communities across New Hampshire,’’ Trombley said.

“They validate what we have said all along – that there was no justifiable reason for the Executive Council to end an almost 40-year relationship between Planned Parenthood and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.’’

In mid-August, New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas informed federal officials the state would turn down the Title X family planning money in Planned Parenthood’s territory.

Critics on the council said they voted against Planned Parenthood because abortions are performed at their clinics.

Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, urged the state’s Republican congressional delegation to try to stop the Obama administration from moving ahead with this contract.

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

Family planning grants are used for services like cervical cancer screenings, breast exams and the treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Wheeler and other critics maintain Planned Parenthood encourages pregnant women in crisis to get an abortion rather than put the child up for adoption.

Last week, The Telegraph first reported state officials warned the council that federal officials were on the verge of taking over administration of these family planning contracts.

No other providers of family planning services in New Hampshire told state officials they were interested in taking over Planned Parenthood’s territory, Toumpas said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.