SOUTH CHINA – Last spring, the Maine Legislature cut approximately $400,000 from the annual budget of the Family Planning Association of Maine. As a result, many services to poor, young women will be curtailed or terminated.

These funds are part of the Fund for a Healthy Maine, created by the Legislature in 1999 to disburse Maine’s annual tobacco settlement payments. Maine participated in the national tobacco settlement because many Maine people have suffered disease and death as a result of tobacco use.

The fund remains Maine’s primary investment in public health and preventive health care. With health care costs on the rise, it is more important than ever to use the fund for its designated purpose: to promote healthy living.

For 40 years, the Family Planning Association of Maine has been leading the charge to raise awareness about contraception and to prevent unintended pregnancy in Maine.

The FPA provides vital health care services to Mainers, especially those with low incomes and no insurance. Many of the FPA’s clients do not have primary care physicians. Others are young people who want confidential experiences with experts in reproductive care.

The FPA’s services include routine checkups and well-person care, including breast health. Many clients are seeking contraception to prevent pregnancy. Others are screened for sexually spread diseases. Abortions are also performed, although none of the cost of these comes from the Fund for a Healthy Maine.

Most FPA clients are in their 20s and include a smaller proportion of males, who mostly are seeking diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

The impacts of the cuts to the FPA are far-reaching. A coordinator position was eliminated from the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, reducing the number of students who can be reached by the evidence-based curriculum. Two clinicians were laid off. Three partnerships with rural health centers (in Harrington, Milbridge and Jonesport) were terminated.

The hours of operation at family planning health centers around Maine have been reduced, thus reducing the availability of health professionals and health services to patients. The centers that are affected are in Bangor, Biddeford, Dexter, Fort Kent, Houlton, Lincoln, Norway, Portland, Sanford, Skowhegan, Topsham and Waterville.

Two administrative positions were eliminated. Professional development funds were significantly cut, with fewer training opportunities for teachers and youth-serving organizations.

Unintended pregnancies are costly. According to a 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, “Expenditures on Children by Families,” a low-income family will need $169,080 (in today’s dollars) to raise a child through high school. Some of that funding will come from taxpayers who support low-income families. Nationally, taxpayers pay about $11 billion annually in costs associated with 1 million unintended births.

Yet we know that when Washington University School of Medicine researchers offered more than 9,000 low-income women and teens free birth control, the number of accidental pregnancies fell to between 60 and 80 percent below the national average (see the article posted online Oct. 4 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology). Receiving free contraception made teens, who are particularly at risk for unintended pregnancies, one-sixth as likely to give birth.

Between 1991 and 2008, 23,735 teen births in Maine cost taxpayers a total of $600 million. The teen birth rate in Maine declined 40 percent over that same period because Maine has made progress in reducing teen childbearing. Taxpayers were saved an estimated $31 million in 2008 alone over the costs that would have incurred had the rates not fallen. Of the total teen childbearing costs in Maine in 2008, 8 percent were federal costs and 92 percent were state and local costs.

Contraceptive services provided in FPA health centers are important in helping teens avoid unintended pregnancies. In the absence of these services, the number of teen pregnancies would be significantly higher.

Cutting $400,000 a year from the FPA budget is expected to lead to more unintended pregnancies and higher costs to taxpayers. Further, those costs are anticipated to exceed readily the $400,000 currently removed from the FPA annual allotment.

Cutting funding to the Family Planning Association of Maine is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Through its work with teens and young women, FPA provides contraceptive services that in turn save the state millions of dollars a year. Not only is funding FPA an investment in the lives of many Maine women, it is also a smart use of Maine’s resources and a cost savings to Maine taxpayers.

Bets Brown of South China is public policy chair for the American Association of University Women of Maine.