Maine might use state tax dollars to replace at least a portion of a $2 million shortfall in federal funds for family planning clinics created when the Trump administration imposed a “gag rule” on the Title X program this year.

Nurse practitioner Priscilla Perry meets with a patient in her office at the Machias branch of Maine Family Planning in 2017. The organization is seeking state funds to replace $2 million in federal funding that Maine Family Planning declined because it would have restricted the information it could give to patients. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Deirdre Fulton-McDonough, spokeswoman for Maine Family Planning, said the nonprofit is in early discussions with the Mills administration and state lawmakers on securing funding to replace the federal funding. Maine Family Planning provides abortion services and reproductive health services at 18 locations throughout Maine.

The $2 million shortfall, which represents about 25 percent of Maine Family Planning’s annual $8 million budget, threatens the clinics’ ability to provide a full range of services, Fulton-McDonough said. The shortfall hasn’t affected services at Maine Family Planning and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England so far because the agencies have been using reserves and started fundraising, but that is an “unsustainable” strategy, she said.

The goal is to prevent a loss in services, Fulton-McDonough said, but it’s too early to say how much money the group will request from the Mills administration and the Legislature. The next legislative session begins in January.

“We are in early discussions with the Mills administration and state lawmakers,” Fulton-McDonough said. “The services we provide are for the public good and a public health benefit for Maine, and deserve public funding. Family planning deserves sustainable, long-term public funding.”

Fulton-McDonough said Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, is a “champion” of reproductive rights, and so she’s optimistic additional money will be forthcoming. A Mills spokeswoman said that the administration is continuing to explore how it can help.

Mary-Erin Casale, spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon, said that Gideon is working with the Mills administration on additional funding to help the reproductive health clinics, but there are no specifics yet.

“Ensuring that Maine Family Planning and Planned Parenthood have the resources necessary to serve their patients is a priority for the speaker,” Casale said.

Gideon is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Sen. Susan Collins’ seat in 2020. Collins hasn’t announced whether she plans to seek re-election.

In addition to Mills being pro-choice, there are currently Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate, which improves prospects for the funding.

However, Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee, said that “Maine taxpayers should never be forced to subsidize a major abortion provider.”

“Our graying state would be better served to utilize its dwindling resources to promote programs and organizations that enhance life, not eliminate life,” McCann-Tumidajski said in a statement Wednesday.

RESTRICTING ACCESS

Title X does not provide any funding for abortions – as federal law forbids doing so except in rare cases – but does pay for birth control, tests for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer screenings, among other health services.

The gag rule bans clinics that receive Title X funding from making abortion referrals, and providing abortion services in the same buildings where they offer health services paid for by Title X funds. The Trump administration is against abortion and is attempting to restrict abortion services.

The order contradicts the mission of family planning clinics, and both Maine Family Planning and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England withdrew from the Title X program, as did abortion clinics across the country.

The issue is being contested in federal courts, but this summer, a judge did not prevent the Trump administration from implementing the gag rule. The federal funding losses started in July, after federal judges ruled against the clinics.

The $2 million is distributed among the 18 Maine Family Planning facilities, which include clinics in Augusta, Lewiston, Bangor, Rockland and many rural areas of the state, and community and school-based health clinics. Maine Family Planning also grants $400,000 in Title X funding to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Nicole Clegg, senior vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said that state funding to replace lost federal funding in Maine would be “critically important” and that states that do not act “will be left behind and deeply damaged” by the new rule.

Meanwhile, fighting over Title X boiled over in Congress this week when Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, introduced an amendment to a spending bill required to keep the government open that would have reversed President Trump’s gag rule. Murray introduced it in a subcommittee whose members included Collins and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the only two pro-choice Republicans in the Senate.

Republican leadership responded by removing the spending bill from the agenda, and canceled a hearing about it later this week.

“The best way to reduce the number of abortions is to expand access to family planning services,” Collins said in a statement to the Press Herald. “That’s why I have long been a strong supporter of Title X family planning, and why I have repeatedly opposed attempts to impose gag orders or burdensome requirements for separate facilities on clinics in the United States.”

Collins and Murkowski wrote a letter to the Trump administration in 2018 urging officials to not impose the gag rule.

If a standalone bill were to make it to the Senate floor, it would likely fail as Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. Also, Trump would almost certainly veto the bill, and overriding the veto would take a two-thirds majority of the Senate and House.

 

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