By George A. Hill, President & CEO, Maine Family Planning
On Monday evening, July 15, I was waiting at the airport for my flight from Portland, Maine to Washington, D.C. to attend a national meeting of Title X National Family Planning Program grantees.
The meeting was being hosted by the Office of Population Affairs which, under the Trump-Pence Administration, has done everything in its power to subvert the Title X program that Maine Family Planning has participated in for more than 45 years. We rely on Title X funds to help support a network of 50 clinics throughout Maine, making high-quality, affordable reproductive health services available to more than 23,000 patients annually. The majority of our patients qualify for free or reduced-fee services like birth control, STD testing and treatment or other basic care.
Twenty minutes before we were scheduled to board, I received an email from OPA’s leader, Diane Foley, whose credentials for her federal post include a stint running two, so-called crisis pregnancy centers in Colorado. (These biased, religion-based centers do whatever they can, often lying to women about their medical options, to promote their anti-abortion, anti-contraception agendas.) The email conveyed how Foley was looking forward to seeing us Title X grantees in Washington. She went on to say that even though litigation was ongoing, it was her view that the Domestic Gag Rule, which her office is responsible for administering, should be put in effect. In her words: “Compliance with the requirements of the Final Rule (that is, “The Gag Rule”)… is therefore required as of Monday, July 15, 2019.”
The Domestic Gag Rule restricts how Title X health care providers can speak to their patients about abortion and requires strict, cost-prohibitive physical separation of abortion services from family planning services. Complying with the Gag Rule would mean closing up to 85 percent of Maine’s abortion sites and violating our medical ethics. None of the Gag Rule’s provisions are rooted in public health policy. In fact, by increasing barriers to birth control, abortion care, and a wide range of sexual and reproductive health care services, the Gag Rule would make Maine less healthy.
We cannot abide by this attack.
I cancelled my flight at the gate. I called and cancelled my hotel. I went upstairs to the terminal’s second floor for some privacy and quiet, and proceeded to work with staff and board members to announce MFP’s intent to withdraw from the Title X National Family Planning Program.
Our priority now is for our patients, providers, and subgrantees to carry on as if nothing has changed. We are committed to not closing clinics. We are committed to ensuring access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, for all Mainers, regardless of where they live or how much money they earn.
For now, we are funding Maine’s successful family planning network with our own reserves -- private dollars we have painstakingly raised over the years and salted away for just such a situation. However, dipping into MFP’s reserves is not a long term solution. That’s why we are aggressively fundraising while we also work to secure alternative sources of public funding.
We have received amazing support from around our state and the country, as we take this bold step in line with our mission and values. We refuse to comply with the Gag Rule, but we are committed to preserving Maine’s robust family planning system. Our responsibility is to our patients – those who need and deserve evidence-based, unbiased care in their communities.
To them, we say: Our doors are open and we are here for you.
To learn more or to support our efforts, visit www.mainefamilyplanning.org/title-x.