Maine reproductive health care agencies applauded the Biden administration’s announcement Monday that it would reverse a Trump-era decision to deny federal funding to agencies that provide information on accessing abortion services.

The 2019 so-called “gag rule” made it illegal for federally funded health care providers to tell patients how or where to access abortion services. The state’s primary reproductive health care providers, Maine Family Planning and Planned Parenthood Northern New England, chose to continue to provide abortion information to patients and forgo Title X funding.

Title X is a federal taxpayer-funded program that makes available more than $250 million a year to clinics across the United States to provide birth control and basic health care services, mainly to low-income women.

Planned Parenthood Northern New England, which operates clinics in Topsham, Portland, Sanford and Biddeford, said the gag rule had a “significant financial impact on healthcare providers that lost the funding. Title X is designed to help offset the cost of free and discounted healthcare for people with low-incomes. Losing that funding, especially during COVID, has been a real hardship.”

“We applaud the decision of the Biden-Harris Administration to end the harmful gag rule on Title X that forced healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood of Northern New England out of the program,” Planned Parenthood spokesperson Nicole Clegg said in a statement. “Title X is a lifeline for millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Mainers. It provides critical funding to ensure that people regardless of income or insurance coverage get the care they need when they need it.

“While we celebrate today’s news, we know this doesn’t mark the end of the attacks aimed at sexual and reproductive health care in the United States and here in Maine,” Clegg said. “When people walk through our doors for care, whether it’s birth control, STD testing and treatment or cancer screenings, they don’t want politicians in the exam room with them making decision about what they can and can’t do.”

George Hill, Maine Family Planning’s president and chief executive officer, said his agency suffered financially after it withdrew from Title X more than two years ago. It had to rely on its reserves and private donations to cover an estimated $2 million annual loss in Title X funds. Though its clients saw no difference in services, the agency did feel the financial pain.

More than 23,000 patients in Maine access services through Maine Family Planning each year.

“We weathered the storm and we’re very happy with the results of the election,” Hill said Monday evening. In January, Biden signed a presidential memorandum directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to review and consider repealing the gag rule.

In 2018, the family planning clinics served about 3.9 million clients nationally, but the federal health and human services agency estimates that number fell by nearly 40 percent after the Trump policy went into effect. The upheaval may have led to more than 180,000 unintended births, the department said.

Later this year, Maine Family Planning expects to apply for Title X funds that were not used during the period the gag rule was in effect. It will also apply for a second round of Title X funding available in April 2022.

Maine Family Planning is the only Title X grantee in the state. It runs 18 clinics and shares the federal funds with Planned Parenthood clinics and other health centers in Maine. The money represents more than a quarter of the agency’s annual revenue.

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