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Over the past few years, the issue of Planned Parenthood funding has turned New Hampshire’s little-known Executive Council into a lightning rod for controversy.
Now that two executive councilors - Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern - are running for governor, their votes on Planned Parenthood have become a significant issue on the campaign trail.
Van Ostern has repeatedly claimed Sununu’s 2015 vote against $639,000 of state funding to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England denied health care to thousands of women and families in the state, saying nearly 3,000 fewer women and families accessed services statewide because of the defeated contract.
Van Ostern has repeatedly said the lost funding has affected "thousands" of women and families.
"Real damage can come from one vote on the executive council," he said during an August speech.
As a result of Sununu’s vote, "nearly 1,000 fewer women and families accessed health care here for birth control and cancer screenings and annual exams in this city of Manchester and nearly 3,000 fewer did statewide," he said.
Van Osten went back to the point again at a Concord Monitor/NECN debate on Oct. 5, saying as a result of Sununu’s vote, "fewer women got birth control, cancer screening and annual exams."
PolitiFact decided to take a look at the numbers.
There’s little question Sununu was the swing vote on Planned Parenthood funding. He had voted for similar contracts in the past, and when the funding came up in August 2015, he cited concerns about videos that purportedly showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
In June, 2016, he changed course, and the funding was ultimately restored by a 3-2 vote.
To get a scope of the numbers of women that were affected, we reached out to Van Ostern’s camp, which cited a 2015 WMUR article that quoted Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Senior Policy Advisor Jennifer Frizzell.
"According to details provided by Frizzell, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England served 14,191 patients at the end of 2014, but that number dropped by 21 percent, to 11,119, by the end of 2015 as a result of the ‘lost funding,’" the article said.
But numbers from Planned Parenthood show something different.
The five Planned Parenthood clinics in New Hampshire saw 11,078 patients in 2014; the following year, they saw about 1,000 fewer patients statewide, according to numbers provided by the organization.
It turns out that the 21 percent drop the WMUR article references included patients that were lost when a West Lebanon Planned Parenthood clinic relocated to neighboring White River Junction, Vt. in 2014.
Before the relocation, Planned Parenthood clinics in New Hampshire saw about 14,000 patients. That number dropped to about 11,000 after the West Lebanon clinic moved.
The drop of 1,000 patients between 2014 and 2015 also takes into account a 5-week closure of the Claremont Planned Parenthood clinic after it was vandalized and heavily damaged.
That clinic served 948 patients in 2014, which fell 20 percent to 755 the following year, the steepest drop out of all the clinics.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England spokeswoman Victoria Bonney said the lost funding from Sununu’s 2015 Executive Council vote affected access to services including family planning, birth control, well-woman visits, cancer screenings and STI testing and treatment, but patients were never turned away.
Bonney said the lost funding did not result in staff layoffs or denying patients care. Rather, it impacted scheduling and meant fewer patients were seen each day.
Some health centers normally staffed with three practitioners a day had to scale back to two, according to Bonney.
"During the defund, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England never turned patients away and tried to meet demand with fewer resources," Bonney said. "But when patients hear Planned Parenthood has been defunded, they put off health care. With so much media attention on Chris Sununu’s 2015 vote to defund Planned Parenthood, patients may have been uncertain if they could still access necessary services."
Democratic candidate for governor Colin Van Ostern said as a result of Chris Sununu’s vote against a Planned Parenthood contract, "nearly 3,000 fewer" women and families statewide accessed health care for birth control, cancer screenings and annual exams
Sununu, a Republican, did vote against a $639,000 Planned Parenthood contract in 2015. It led to fewer shifts at clinics, but no patients were ever turned away or denied care, the organization said.
The numbers cited by Van Ostern weren’t accurate. About 1,000 fewer women accessed Planned Parenthood from one year to the next. His numbers, however, failed to account for one clinic moving out of state, and another one being closed for 5 weeks following an incident of vandalism.
Still, some patients may have stayed away following the publicity surrounding the vote.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, NH utilization statistics.
WMUR, Executive Council rejects Planned Parenthood funding, Aug. 5, 2015
NHPR, State Funding For N.H. Planned Parenthood Denied In 3-2 Vote, Aug. 5, 2016
NH1, Sununu votes yes; Executive Council restores Planned Parenthood funding, June 29, 2016
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