Two Perspectives: Sununu Explains De-Funding Vote; Planned Parenthood Responds

Aug 6, 2015

Credit NHPR Staff

The Executive Council voted yesterday against renewing two family planning contracts for Planned Parenthood centers in New Hampshire. Here are two perspectives on that controversial issue.

First, we'll hear first from Councilor Chris Sununu, who cast the deciding vote, and then, from Jennifer Frizzell, Vice President for Public Policy of Planned Parenthood New England.

Scroll down to read a transcript of both interviews:

Interview with Chris Sununu:

You voted to provide money to Planned Parenthood before, but not now. Why the change?

The money that we're talking about here goes to what I believe are critical services, woman's basic healthcare needs, reproductive services, and in my district, Planned Parenthood is really the only option, they almost have a kind of monopoly on it in my district. And at the time, while I've never been a big fan of Planned Parenthood, some of the things that go on at the top of the organization, the services were too critical. So, while it wasn't a very popular vote with other Republicans, the constituents really came first, so I have voted for this contract in the past.  

Obviously things have really changed, and my vote yesterday to essentially not approve taxpayer dollars within New Hampshire, the supplemental dollars to go to Planned Parenthood, it's really based around the fact that we have  a situation where an organization is being looked at under criminal investigation on a federal level, multi states are also looking at criminal investigations.

The real focus and the purpose, one of the primary purposes of the New Hampshire Executive Council is that we provide integrity to the system. We're the checks and balances on who we're going to do business with in the state of New Hampshire. So, whether it's for financial matters or if there's a criminal investigation, we can say no and we should say no.

I don't care if you sell snowplows to the state, or you're a landscaper working for the state, or you're a group providing healthcare services, we should, and in those cases we would, take a step back and say, 'No, we're not going to do business with a group like that.'

We should only do business with the best businesses and those that represent us and our values. When you have a group that is facing  this tpe of both legal and ethical scrutiny, we really have to take a step back. And that goes for any vendor. I don't care if you sell snowplows to the state, or you're a landscaper working for the state, or you're a group providing healthcare services, we should, and in those cases we would, take a step back and say, "No, we're not going to do business with a group like that."

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England has not been accused of any wrongdoing, it did not appear in any of the videos, so is it fair to de-fund an organization because of something sister organizations across the country are accused of doing - they haven't been convicted of anything.

Well it's - Planned Parenthood is Planned Parenthood. I know they have an affiliate up here called Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, they're all part of the same organization. It's like saying a franchisee is not part of a parent company - it's all part of the same organization. While their hasn't been any direct link to date with anything going on in - with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, a couple things: there's still a lot of this story to be told, the only - we asked for the Attorney General to do an investigation to confirm that, essentially, and the governor said, "No."

What is wrong with asking the Attorney General to do some legwork and assure us of that? But the governor won't even allow him to do that, she rejected that outright. That's not right.

So what would you say to your constituents who, as you admit, rely heavily on Planned Parenthood for non-abortion related healthcare?

So, my - my request to the governor very directly yesterday was, 'Governor, help us find alternatives."

There's a couple issues here. The fact that Planned Parenthood is really one of the only alternatives in my district, I don't like. Women should have choice. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with giving women choice or alternatives? Maybe they want to go to Planned Parenthood, maybe they want to go to another organization, these funds should be available to multiple groups in my district. I didn't like that. She flat-out rejected it. 

The fact that she tried to make this argument that alt - she actually said that "alternatives and choice in this case would be detrimental." I don't know when choice and alternatives for people are ever detrimental in any type of business. 

Help these women whether you agree or disagree with Planned Parenthood, whether they're involved with illegal  activity or not we don't know. But let's at least have choice in our system. She flat-out rejected that. That's appalling to me. That's- 

Let's talk about choice for a moment because, I mean, back in 2011 when you approved the Planned Parenthood funding, you also called for more choices back then too...

Absolutely...

...because Planned Parenthood wasn't your favorite organization but you wanted alternatives. That was four years ago, and since then, no alternatives have been presented. So how can you reasonably expect more alternatives now, especially when we're still operating without a budget?

So back in 2011, when I spoke with Commissioner Toumpas and Governor Lynch at the time, we said, "We're going to go out and make some calls, pick up the phone to some of these other healthcare providers," which a lot of - which we did. Commissioner Toumpas did,  I did.

And we kind of heard the same story at the time: "Look, there's not enough money in these contracts," and, this is what really got me, "We don't want a turf war with Planned Parenthood."  

That was, that told me right there who we're dealing with. Planned Parenthood had kind of - people in that industry don't want to battle each other. That's not right. That's allowing Planned Parenthood to have a monopoly. I was not willing to take away the services.

Given the change that we have now, the fact that I think what has happened over the last month, I think we can entice more people to the table, pick up those phones again. I've already talked to Commissioner Toumpas. Governor Hassan does not want to be a leader in providing these alternatives and choice. Myself and Commissioner Toumpas and his staff, who have been doing a great job by the way, I will pick up the phone. We will continue that call. And given that things have changed, I feel very confident that we can actually find some alternatives for the folks. 

No one's losing services, let's be clear about that. The vast majority of Planned Parenthood's funding is still directly contracted Title 10 funds with the federal government, we have no say on that, no one is losing any services. When the Democrats yesterday said, "Thirteen thousand people are going to lose services," that's a lie- two things, it's either a) a lie, 'cause they know it's not true, or b), these councilors and the governor haven't done their homework and they don't know how this works, how these process work. 

So are you saying Planned Parenthood didn't need this money?

I'm saying - I'm saying Planned Parenthood's - the amount of money in this, in this, is not directly related to the number of people they serve. They don't, they don't turn people away. Planned Parenthood last year got more money in this state than they almost ever have before. They got state funding, they got tons of federal funding,  and they served less people. There's no direct correlation there.

There are people that aren't going to Planned Parenthood as often because of Medicaid expansion. There - there - people are taking advantage of that choice. I don't necessarily think that that's the right answer either, I think these funds directed towards specifically towards women health services are critically important. There's just nothing wrong with, with allowing other people to come in and play in that field.

But when they said, "thirteen thousand people," which is their entire service population across the entire state, no, we're talking about one contract - two contracts I should say in greater Manchester and the Seacoast area a little bit out west. That's what we're talking about. And now those funds are available to go contract with somebody else that doesn't have this legal and ethical scrutiny hanging over their head.

Councilor Sununu, thank you very much.

Thank you, Peter, any time. 

Interview with Jennifer Frizzell:

What will this lack of funding do to your organization?

We certainly weren't planning for this outcome so that's something that we'll have to be considering over the next weeks and months. What I'm certain of is we'll have to adjust the programs that we offer to women and young people in New Hampshire in order to absorb the $319,000 in each year that we've historically received in state funds.

What might that include? It might include reducing hours at our health centers. It might include eliminating staff positions and it might include adjusting the affordability of services for our patients. But we are ultimately committed to try to continue to serve the women, men and young people of New Hampshire the best we can despite this action from the Executive Council.

So you don't know at this point what exactly will be changed and to what degree?

We don't, no.

Do you know when you'll know?

Well, it's the kind of decision that affects many people in the organization. So like I said we'll have to look at what are the other types of levers that we have to move with regard to being able to compensate for this loss for patients. I think it'd probably be a couple weeks. It could be a couple months.

Some would argue that patients could simply go elsewhere now. These are services that they could access somewhere else in the state even if it isn't convenient to where they happen to live. What would you say to that claim?

First I would say that Planned Parenthood has spent four, five decades building up a network of delivering these services where we're the lowest cost provider. We're, in our view, the highest quality provider in the regions that we are serving. So it's just not tenable for nearly 13,000 patients that we're serving to all of a sudden find their way to other healthcare providers.

And quite honestly it's not practical for those who are looking for the provider of choice. If they want to choose to come to Planned Parenthood, we believe that they should be able to and that the logic behind the Executive Council decision does not put the patient needs first.

It's so important to understand that these videos are part of a decade-long attack by extreme opposition groups to undermine access to safe, legal abortion and to dismantle the network of services at Planned Parenthood. These are individuals who have been associated with the most extreme tactics in the anti-abortion movement.

People on both sides of the aisle, Democrats, Republicans, have called these videos disturbing. These sting videos that show what some are calling illegal behavior, although nobody has actually come right out and charged these people. What's your opinion of these videos?

It's so important to understand that these videos are part of a decade-long attack by extreme opposition groups to undermine access to safe, legal abortion and to dismantle the network of services at Planned Parenthood. These are individuals who have been associated with the most extreme tactics in the anti-abortion movement.

There has been some clinical and dispassionate language used in these videos for which we have honestly apologized as an organization. That's not the way we approach our patients. It's not the kind of care we want to be known for. And we've been honest and transparent when anyone has asked about investigating. However, the individuals behind the videos are really trying to manufacture wrongdoing and there's no uncovering of wrongdoing that's been identified by anyone who's viewed the videos in their entirety.

What do you feel about the argument that Councilor Chris Sununu made that we just don't know enough about this whole situation yet and it's best to sort of reevaluate the position that the state has and that taxpayers have with Planned Parenthood, at least until more information is known about these allegations. What do you make of that argument?

I think that's a pretext for advancing part of the national political agenda and I'm deeply disappointed in Councilor Sununu for taking that road, rather than recognizing that at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England we're a separately organized non-profit organization. We serve New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. We have never had a fetal tissue donation program. No one has raised any allegations about our services and so the only thing that's different about the contract this year is the national political environment.

So what I would say is that that is a decision that is ultimately not based on the facts on the ground here in New Hampshire, and certainly not based on what's best for the women and men of New Hampshire.

But the political climate has changed because of some very serious allegations. So leaving out the politics, is it rational to reevaluate the state's relationship with Planned Parenthood at this point?

I don't think it's rational to say that these are allegations that are being made by individuals in law-enforcement positions who are not associated with a political agenda. I do understand how the councilor has articulated his desire.

However, to jeopardize access to services based on such unsubstantiated information is certainly not in the best interest of the men and women who need access to things like birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, life-saving services. They'll be all on hold. As will our ability to know with certainty we can continue to deliver them in the absence of these contracts.

What are Planned Parenthood's options in northern New England to perhaps replace this funding or to restore it from the state?

We have always done a thorough job of fundraising. We have small individual donors, we have larger foundation donors. But this is really about what are the right resources to fund a public health infrastructure. And so of course we're going to work to try to replace these dollars. And I think we'll continue to try to talk with lawmakers to see when and how these state funds might be returned to us.

What I don't think is reasonable is the idea that these funds will be put out to bid to other organizations that have not to date been interested in delivering these services, while Planned Parenthood stands ready with a very comprehensive patient base to continue to serve the state in a way we think we've done so well.