CONCORD, N.H. >> New Hampshire Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu helped kill a measure in the state a year ago that would have provided funding for Planned Parenthood over concerns it was selling fetal tissue for profit.
But with those allegations proven unfounded, Sununu had a change of heart Wednesday. He joined the majority on the state Executive Council to vote in favor of providing $549,000 in funding for five Planned Parenthood Centers. The 3-2 vote ensures that there will funding for family planning services, but not for abortions.
"This contract is really about making sure that 12,000 women have access to funds," Sununu told reporters. "Yes, it would be, some say, politically convenient to stop that and put it in its place. But the constituents of my district have put me into the executive council to uphold the constitution, to treat everyone with fairness."
Councilors cut off one-third of Planned Parenthood's public funding last August when they voted against a similar contract. At that time, Sununu cast the deciding vote, citing videos claiming to show Planned Parenthood employees selling fetal tissue for profit. Investigations have since cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.
Planned Parenthood has said the funding denial has resulted in patients having to wait weeks for appointments compared to the same day and limiting access to others. There also has been a decrease in services such as pap smears and tests for sexually transmitted diseases as a result of the funding cut, the group said.
The issue continues to polarize New Hampshire residents. Both sides on the abortion debate came out for the vote, packing a hearing with dozens of their supporters and holding competing rallies in front of the state house.
Inside the hearing, supporters of the funding on the council including Democrats Christopher Pappas and Colin Van Ostern, a gubernatorial candidate, said this was a chance to right a wrong done last year.
"I would hope that this item is one of those things that bring us together. We're talking birth control, cancer screenings, annual exams," Van Ostern said. "This should not be political. This should not be controversial."
Republicans Joseph Kenney and David Wheeler voted against it. Wheeler, in speaking against the measure, alleged that Planned Parenthood was "indeed selling baby parts" and committing Medicaid fraud in other parts of the country.
"If they are going to choose to do this, we shouldn't be doing business with them," Wheeler said.
Kenney said the money would have been better spent on fighting opioid abuse, rather than providing family planning services.
But for many, the focus was on Sununu who is pro-abortion rights. In the run-up to the vote, he had been criticized by his Republican opponents for not saying how he would vote and then attacked for supporting the funding.
"He falsely claims his conscience told him to vote 'yes' when he voted 'no' just a few short months ago on the exact same contract," Frank Edelblut said in a statement. "We need a Governor who knows what his principles are."
Sununu defended his vote last year, saying it was appropriate to "take a pause" while the group was being investigated. Now that the allegations have been "debunked," he said voting for the funding was right — even though it might cost him politically in the election.
"We have to make sure we are providing the best services for the women, especially low income women, of the state and this contract provides that," he said. "I'm not going to stand in the way of that."