The anti-abortion protest happening right now outside the Maine Family Planning health care clinic in Augusta is nothing new; opponents of reproductive rights have been holding this same weeks-long demonstration, meant to shame and humiliate our staff and patients, every year for years.

As a former family planning counselor, I have always been stirred to anger by the picketers, on behalf of both our patients – who have every right to seek a legal medical procedure without being subjected to harassment from people who disagree with their decision – and our dedicated staff, who have chosen to share their expertise in order to provide Mainers with nonjudgmental, life-changing (and, in some cases, lifesaving) care. None of these people should be forced to pass a gauntlet of gruesome signs and intolerant stares just to get to health care appointments or their jobs.

These days, the protest still makes me mad. But this year, in this political context, the picketers elicit deeper concern than ever before.

Sure, they may show up only by the handful, suggesting that support for their cause runs shallow in Maine. Yet I fear that they are emboldened by anti-choice politicians at the top levels of our government — people like Donald Trump, whose first order of business as president was to reinstate the so-called global gag rule, which stifles access to and information about abortion around the world; or Vice President Mike Pence, who just last month declared that legal abortion in the U.S. would end “in our time.” In ways big and small, the Trump administration has made clear its hostility toward reproductive freedom.

Meanwhile, we have seen other states pursue restrictive laws, insurmountable clinic requirements and defunding efforts that can close reproductive health centers. When this happens, the constitutionally protected right to access abortion care becomes lip service only.

All this helps to perpetuate stigma that our providers struggle to dismantle every day.


That’s why, over the course of this year’s six-week anti-abortion protest, Maine Family Planning has introduced supporters to members of our amazing team. Our goal is to demystify and spotlight the important work we do statewide — to show people that despite opposition from many corners, we choose to proudly step forward rather than retreat into the shadows. The protesters may be present for 40 days, but we’re here for our patients, day in and day out.

Our site administrative coordinator in Augusta, Catherine, said that what she enjoys most about her job is “being the first person that patients interact with,” showing them “that we are a welcoming health care facility that is here to help them without prejudice.”

Cait, Maine Family Planning’s community organizer, said it’s an honor to work for an abortion care provider that seeks to ensure that “everyone’s basic human rights are honored by our government and also by each other.”

And Leah, who leads our abortion care staff as program director, shared what she hears most from patients in the recovery room: “I just can’t believe how nice everyone here is.”

“It makes me happy,” Leah said, “but it also makes me a bit sad because folks expect to be treated poorly or that this is going to be a really scary place to come. It’s almost like they feel they don’t deserve good, compassionate care. But what they find is that we’re really, truly here to meet their needs in a nonjudgmental way.”

And we do so in the face of political attacks and relentless fear-mongering.

All of us who believe that abortion must remain a safe and legal option need to be shaken out of complacency. It is fortunate that anti-choice efforts have thus far found little traction in Maine, but only we can guarantee that trend continues. Our federal and state lawmakers – as well as the anti-abortion activists picketing on our front lawn — must see that we have broad community support and we’ll fight to keep it that way. Now more than ever, it’s time to stand up to stigma and support our friends, neighbors and those on the front lines of reproductive health.

Liz Hays of Portland is a current board member and a former patient and provider at Maine Family Planning, the state’s oldest and largest reproductive health care organization with 18 clinics throughout Maine.

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