Planned Parenthood is essential to NH

There is simply no way other health care providers could meet the tremendous need met by the organization

I have been dismayed in recent weeks to hear some of our elected leaders in New Hampshire and Washington distort the science and ignore the tremendous public health contributions of a valued health care provider in favor of extreme political rhetoric and false, medically unsound claims. 

As the former chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and a longtime women’s health provider in New Hampshire, I’ve been proud to testify many times before the NH Legislature on bills concerning women’s health care and specifically on the funding of Planned Parenthood.

I have said each time that if the pro-life groups wanted to see fewer abortions we should triple the funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides 2.7 million women, men and young people with health care every year, including affordable birth control and family planning counseling, lifesaving cancer screenings and well-woman exams.

More than 90 percent of the care Planned Parenthood provides is preventive, and they do more every year to prevent the need for abortion than most other medical organizations. 

In New Hampshire alone, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England serves nearly 13,000 patients across New Hampshire and 42,000 patients across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont each year. Over half of the visits to Planned Parenthood health centers in northern New England were for family planning, counseling and contraception, and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England provided care to many patients across the states who could not afford care elsewhere: 65 percent of those patients across the three states had an income of less than $17,505 per year. 

When all of these facts are considered, the vote last month by New Hampshire’s Executive Council to sever state contracts funding Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services is downright irresponsible. These contracts have been in place for 40 years, with great benefits for not only Planned Parenthood patients but for our communities and our state.

New Hampshire consistently has among the lowest teen pregnancy rates and the best maternal health outcomes of any state in the country; the work of Planned Parenthood plays a significant role in these public health achievements.

It is deeply disappointing to see those benefits dismissed and diminished to focus on degrading misinformation that would disable an organization that provides so much benefit to our region. Tissue donation is a legitimate medical practice, and has helped lead to important medical research and breakthroughs such as the polio vaccine and research into many diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes. What’s important for everyone to recognize is that almost every person in America benefits from the research done using fetal tissue – everyone – and Planned Parenthood in some parts of the country helps facilitate this and makes it possible. 

New Hampshire is now being referred by some as “ground-zero” in the fight over defunding Planned Parenthood, so I urge our elected officials to be responsible in their rhetoric. And I urge my colleagues in the medical community to join me in speaking out to defend this high-quality, cost-effective organization that has done so much to advance the health of our families and communities.

There is simply no way for other health care providers to meet the tremendous need for health care in New Hampshire without Planned Parenthood. The well-being of millions of women depends on Planned Parenthood health centers across New Hampshire and around the country. And the future of Planned Parenthood depends on all of us speaking the truth to these misleading political attacks.  

Dr. Barry Smith is professor Emeritus and chair of OB/GYN emeritus at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Hanover. 

Categories: Opinion