Feds to fund N.H. family planning after state council refuses

LITTLETON, New Hampshire Fri Sep 9, 2011 6:50pm EDT

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LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - The federal government has committed to taking over family planning services for poor women in much of New Hampshire, in a move that may allow Planned Parenthood to resume providing a full range of care including birth control, a state official said.

Planned Parenthood clinics had previously provided family planning services to more than half the state before a Republican state council voted to end a $1.8 million contract because the women's health group also offers abortions.

Nicholas Toumpas, New Hampshire's health and human services commissioner, said the federal government took the decision after he alerted Washington that the state was violating federal rules requiring family planning services be provided statewide.

About 4,000 New Hampshire women have had health care services disrupted by the executive council's decision to veto Planned Parenthood's contract, financed by a federal grant.

"They're really the only provider in the state that could make up the huge geographic area that could be covered," said Chris Sununu, a member of the state's five-member executive council who opposed the cuts.

The move to block Planned Parenthood's contract was part of a national campaign by abortion foes to cut government funding to the group, which is already barred by federal law from using government money for abortions, which it funds separately.

Eight states have moved to slash funding for Planned Parenthood's health care services this year, including Texas, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Federal judges have ordered North Carolina, Kansas and Indiana to halt such moves after Planned Parenthood filed suit in those states.

The federal government's decision to pay directly for poor women's pelvic exams, birth control pills and antibiotics in New Hampshire angered abortion foes.

"Money is fungible," said Ciara Matthews, a Washington, D.C.-based spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. "What it does is open up other funds to be used for abortion."

Jennifer Frizzell, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, declined to say whether the group had applied directly to Washington for the funds to finance its New Hampshire operations. She criticized abortion foes for targeting Planned Parenthood's non-abortion operations.

"These national folks claim to be motivated by an animus to abortion services but in fact they're also passionately committed to ending access to very basic preventive health care services like contraception," she said.

The group's six New Hampshire clinics provided services to 16,000 people last year, 68 percent of whom had annual income below 150 percent of the federal poverty limit, or $16,245 for a single person.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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