N.H. complaint says feds played favorites with Plannned Parenthood

Posted Dec. 25, 2011, at 4:35 a.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire Right-to-Life has filed a complaint against the federal Health and Human Services agency, charging it failed to provide documents concerning a $1 million contract with Planned Parenthood.

The pro-life organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents and communications between the agency and Planned Parenthood on the family planning and birth control services contract awarded this fall — three months after the Executive Council rejected a similar contract.

The complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court in Concord seeks an injunction to prevent the agency from continuing to withhold the documents, and asks the court to order the documents’ release.

The complaint also seeks any communications the federal agency may have had with other state health care providers for similar services.

The federal government awarded a no-bid “urgent need” contract to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England on Sept. 13. In June, the Executive Council killed a $1.8 million contract for family planning services at the organization’s six clinics in Manchester, Derry, Keene, Exeter, Lebanon and Claremont.

No-bid contract

Right-to-Life’s attorney Michael J. Tierney of Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, PLLC in Manchester, said his client wants to determine if the federal agency contacted health care providers in the six communities before awarding the no-bid contract.

NHRTL President Kurt Wuelper said: “The people of New Hampshire have the right to know why the Obama administration gave Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest baby killer, a million taxpayer dollars while cutting funding for state hospitals and community clinics. The administration has defied the will of the people by flooding New Hampshire with unwanted abortion money and has violated the public trust by covering up its communications with its abortion industry cronies. It’s time for HHS to reveal what it is hiding and stop violating the Freedom of Information Act.”

HHS declined comment on the complaint.

Time limits passed

Jennifer Frizzell, a senior advisor to Planned Parenthood Northern New England said: “While we are not party to the lawsuit, we are confident we are the most qualified and appropriate provider for the more than 15,000 New Hampshire citizens who rely on the critical health services provided by the contract.”

According to the complaint, RTL first filed a FOIA request with HHS’ Boston regional office seeking any requests for proposals for family planning services on Sept. 12; the next day the Planned Parenthood contract was announced.

The agency sent RTL a letter Sept. 14 saying there were no outstanding requests for proposals for the services, according to the complaint.

The pro-life organization negotiated with HHS over the correct term to request the information and then made a formal request for all documents and communications dealing with the Planned Parenthood contract on Oct. 7.

In an Oct. 31 letter, the agency informed RTL it would be unable to produce the information within the 20-working-day limit, nor within the 10 additional days provided under federal statute.

Thursday Tierney said more than 30 days had passed since the FOIA request was filed and that is why the organization went forward with the complaint.

Cuts to hospitals

In the complaint, Tierney states “NHRTL has an interest in analyzing these communications and other documents to insure that HHS did not inappropriately or unlawfully award a grant to Planned Parenthood that should or could have been competitively bid and/or granted to some of the hospitals or community health centers that serve the cities where Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are located.”

The group notes before the grant was awarded, Manchester Community Health Clinic asked the state for information about the grant, but never received a response.

“New Hampshire Right to Life believes that with the recent cuts in subsidies to hospitals, the full-service hospitals located in each of the communities where Planned Parenthood operates an abortion clinic, would be better able to provide a variety of health care services to people in need,” according to the complaint.

Contract registered

Earlier this fall, the three executive councilors who voted to deny the contract asked HHS to terminate the Planned Parenthood grant, saying it violates both the Public Health Service Act and federal acquisition regulations.

The Colorado-based Alliance Defense Fund filed an official protest with the U.S. Department of Human Services and the federal Government Accountability Office on behalf of the three councilors: Dan St. Hilaire, R-Concord; Ray Wieczorek, R-Manchester; and David Wheeler, R-Mason.

In the protest, the ADF attorneys wrote, “the grant by HHS was improper, irregular, unnecessary, in contravention of the authority of the Executive Council and its duly elected members, and in disregard for the sovereignty of the state of New Hampshire.”

No action was taken on the protest.

(c)2011 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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