AUGUSTA — A recently released Guttmacher Institute study showed that Maine has “the highest levels of contraceptive use” in the country – at 84 percent – “among women at risk of unintended pregnancy.”

Maine’s network of family planning providers is largely responsible for the progress our state has made in empowering those likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy to take control of their reproductive lives and futures.

But now that network – and in turn, these important public health gains – is at risk.

Maine Family Planning, the state’s oldest and largest reproductive health care organization and its sole Title X national family planning program grantee, operates 18 clinics statewide, many in rural or remote areas. We also work with and help fund reproductive health services provided by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in the southern part of the state, and a host of community health centers providing family planning services elsewhere. Every year, more than 23,000 Mainers receive high-quality, affordable care from Maine Family Planning or one of our partners in reproductive health.

Maine Family Planning also offers abortion care at our 18 clinics as part of the full spectrum of reproductive health care. In accordance with federal law, and as confirmed by annual audits, abortion services are provided without using any federal resources, including Title X funds.

We consider the provision of such comprehensive care central to our identity. But because of this, we have a target on our back.

Last week, the Trump administration released what’s known as “the domestic gag rule” – a major, medically unjustified change to the Title X program that will make it harder or even impossible for tens of thousands of Mainers to access critical services including birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and abortion.

The rule bars organizations like Maine Family Planning that participate in the Title X program from providing abortion services and federally funded family planning services at the same location. This would force us to choose between providing abortion care or family planning services at our 18 direct-service sites, and could result in shuttered clinics and extremely limited access to abortion in underserved western, northern and Down East Maine communities. Abortion would become meaningfully accessible only to those with the most resources.

Furthermore, the rule restricts Title X providers, like our expert clinicians, from giving patients clear information about where to access abortion care in the event of a positive pregnancy test – even if the patient explicitly requests it. This would leave our patients in the dark at a critical moment, with more hoops to jump through just to access safe and legal health care. For many patients, those hurdles will be insurmountable and tantamount to a denial of abortion access altogether.

The rule also eliminates the requirement that family planning programs provide medically accurate information about health care options, and the full range of proven contraceptive methods. Under the gag rule, a clinic that receives Title X funds could offer just one method – for example, the rhythm method, also known as “natural family planning” – and still meet the federal criteria. That’s not the type of care our patients need and deserve.

As the statewide Title X grantee, we believe these provisions render the Title X program, which has enjoyed bipartisan support and tremendous success for decades, virtually unrecognizable. Under the gag rule, we would be hard-pressed to achieve successes like the ones documented in the recent Guttmacher report.

The gag rule is particularly onerous for Maine Family Planning, the only independent Title X grantee in the country that makes abortion care available as part of its comprehensive offerings. It makes fulfilling our organizational mission practically untenable and it imperils the state’s family planning network.

That’s why Maine Family Planning will file a case in U.S. District Court, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Covington & Burling LLP, seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the rule from taking effect.

In the meantime, Maine’s robust Title X network – including 18 Maine Family Planning clinics spread throughout the state – will continue to offer the same compassionate, nonjudgmental, expert and ungagged care on which our patients have come to rely.


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