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Jun 30, 2016 12:09 AM

NH1 News EXCLUSIVE: Hassan criticizes Sununu, Ayotte, over Planned Parenthood

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – While she praised the Executive Council move on Wednesday to restore state funding to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Gov. Maggie Hassan criticized Republican Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who was the key swing vote.

And in an exclusive interview with NH1 News, the Democratic governor, who’s challenging GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte this year instead of running for a third term in the Corner Office, also slammed Ayotte’s efforts when it comes to women’s reproductive rights as “sham legislation.”

The council approved a $550,000 contract for PPNNE that was rejected last summer by the council. Sununu, who had previously voted in favor of the funding in 2014 (it was approved 4-0), was the swing vote last year, joining fellow GOP councilors Joe Kenney and David Wheeler in voting against the contract.

On Wednesday, Sununu joined Democratic councilors Colin Van Ostern and Chris Pappas in voting in favor of the state funding. Both Sununu and Van Ostern are running to succeed Hassan as governor.

During the council meeting, Hassan pushed back against arguments from both Kenney and Wheeler.

At one point, Wheeler said “I’d like to read into the record that Planned Parenthood lied to the University of Wisconsin. They are indeed selling baby parts.”

He added that “if they’re going to choose to do this, we shouldn’t do business with them.”

Hassan responded ”for the record, charges like this have been completely debunked now in multiple instances.”

“What I would like us to focus on is what is before this council, which is the contract for Planned Parenthood for Northern New England which does not engage in voluntarily fetal donation. We’ve had that confirmed multiple times,” she added.

Speaking to the councilors and the demonstrators from both sides who were packed into the council chambers, Hassan said “one of the things that I think unifies everybody in this room is that we would all prefer it if there were fewer abortions.”

“If what we want to do is make abortions even more rare, then we should be investing in family planning services with a provider that is known for its expertise and excellent care,” Hassan added. “That is a way to lower the number of unplanned pregnancies, lower the number of abortions.”

Later, in an exclusive interview with NH1 News in the Corner Office, Hassan said “I’m very glad the Executive Council came together today in a bipartisan vote to restore critical funding, family planning and preventive health services to planned parenthood of northern New England. That kind of funding and access to family planning and access to those very important family planning and preventive health services are critical to the economic security and vitality of our women and our families all across New Hampshire. So I’m very pleased that the council took the action that they did today.”

But she went on to say that “I’m troubled that it took 10 months to get to this point. A version of this contract, a previous contract, was voted down, including by councilor Sununu, 10 months ago. And that has meant that the services to women across the state have been impacted.

Referring to Sununu’s vote last year to defund PPNNE, the governor said “that councilor Sununu saw fit this time to do the right thing.”

Wednesday’s vote was announced last Friday. Asked by NH1 News about the timing, Sununu said “it was politically inconvenient. I’ll say that. You’d have to ask the commissioner (Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Myers, a Democrat appointed by Hassan) and the governor about the timing of this. But I think it’s obvious.”

So NH1 News asked Hassan about the timing of the vote. Her response: “We have a bidding process in New Hampshire. I think you heard the commissioner say today that in his confirmation hearings this winter, he said he would put the contract back out to bid. He did that. There’s a process that that entails and today the contract was ready to come back.”

Issue impacts U.S. Senate battle

The reproductive rights of women have been an important issue in the race between Ayotte and Hassan, which is one of the most high profile, expensive and negative U.S. Senate showdowns this year, and will be a crucial contest in deciding whether the Democrats regain control of the chamber.

In an interview with NH1 News hours after she launched her campaign last October, Hassan said “Sen. Ayotte’s stand against planned parenthood, she voted to defund planned parenthood. That’s deeply, deeply, concerning.”

Days later, the conservative third-party group One Nation launched a seven-figure ad buy in the Granite State defending Ayotte’s record on women’s healthcare.

In April, NH1 News was first to report that Ayotte was the target of the first Senate TV ad this cycle by the political wing of Planned Parenthood.

Ahead of Wednesday’s showdown in the Executive Council, Ayotte’s campaign put out a new version of a digital ad that touts the senator’s record on fighting for women.

“I want to ensure a better quality of life for my ten year old daughter and all of our daughters. Better health care,” Ayotte said in the spot running on Facebook.

Asked about such efforts from the Ayotte campaign, Hassan told NH1 News that “I think that those are really claims meant to distract people from her real record on women’s health. My opponent in this race, Kelly Ayotte, has said that she believes that Roe v. Wade should be overturned and that we need a new Supreme Court to do it. I think that’s possibly part of the reason she is failing to do her job and blocking a hearing on Supreme Court nominee. And she has voted to defund Planned Parenthood six times.”

“I’m very concerned that Sen. Ayotte has voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood. People shouldn’t be distracted by sham legislation or anything else that she might put forward. She has really worked against reproductive rights for women throughout her career,” Hassan added.

Responding, Ayotte campaign spokeswoman Liz Johnson told NH1 News that "Governor Hassan's ridiculous attacks are a frantic attempt to distract from the fact she's been out of state for political travel for 46 days and isn't focused on her job as governor.”

“Kelly has a strong record of fighting for women's health care - including successfully protecting access to mammograms, leading efforts to increase access to contraceptives, and voting to fund community health centers that provide key health services for New Hampshire women,” Johnson added.

Both candidates have spent a good amount of time fundraising. Hassan was out of the state and in Washington DC on Monday and Tuesday for fundraisers, and once came under attack from the Ayotte campaign and pro-GOP groups for her absence.

Asked by NH1 News about the criticism, Hassan said “I think these are distractions. I think the people of New Hampshire know that in the 21st Century I’m in constant touch with people here in New Hampshire and doing my job as governor just as all candidates for election or re-election do, I travel from time to time. But I always am in touch with the people here and will always put my job as governor first.”

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