AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are considering a bill to provide about $3 million to the state’s family planning network to replace more than $2 million in federal funds that providers rejected in a dispute over abortion counseling.

Planned Parenthood and Maine Family Planning withdrew from the federal Title X program last year after the Trump administration adopted rules that prohibit them from discussing abortion with their clients.

The state bill, sponsored by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would replace federal Title X funds with state funding and fill a budget gap for Planned Parenthood and Maine Family Planning. The two organizations provide family planning and other reproductive health services to 23,000 women at 50 sites across Maine.

The bill calls for $2,035,670 in annual funding for the network and a one-time appropriation of just over $1 million to replace lost Title X funds for the period beginning Jan. 1 and ending June 30 of this year.

At a briefing on the measure at the State House on Thursday, Gideon said that she relied on Planned Parenthood for part of her health care needs when she was a young woman.

“Make no mistake,” Gideon said, “for many of these patients this is the only health care provider that they are seeing. I was once one of those patients when Planned Parenthood was my primary and only health care provider at a certain time in my life.”

The services run the gamut, from birth control to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and wellness exams and counseling, Gideon said.

The $2 million in federal funds that Maine Family Planning rejected represents about 25 percent of its annual $8 million budget, and the organization has said the loss threatens its ability to provide a full range of clinical services.

The bill, like the Title X funds it replaces, also prohibits any of the funding from being used to pay for abortions. That has been a chief concern of opponents.

Dozens of supporters turned out to testify on the measure, L.D. 1613, in a public hearing before the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee Thursday.

Among the supporters was Sonny Shouse, a transgender man, who said if it were not for Planned Parenthood’s support and medical care, he did not think he would be alive. He said the organization offered him non-biased access to health care services, counseling on hormone therapy and health care he had no other way to obtain.

“The reason I am still standing here is because Planned Parenthood saved my life,” Shouse said. “In that office, in roughly 45 minutes, I was given a future where I could love myself, and that’s all it takes to save a life. That’s all it took to save mine. The knowledge that we are not alone, we are not without support, we are not without care and we are not without hope.”

Opponents of the measure included the Christian Civic League of Maine. The league’s policy director, Mike McClellan, a former Republican state representative from Raymond, said members of the league are strongly opposed to taxpayer funds being used for abortion, and said some of the health care services Planned Parenthood provides are available at other publicly funded, federally qualified health care centers across the state.

“I’ve also heard from people that these monies won’t be used for abortions – if you look at budgets you know that’s not really a legitimate argument,” McClellan said. “If women did not have health care options and we knew that women were at risk, my organization would actually be fighting you guys to get something.”

McClellan said the members of his organization do not believe abortion is health care.

Karen Vachon, another former Republican state representative from Scarborough and the executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee, echoed McClellan’s views.

“Abortion is not health care,” she said in her testimony against the bill. “It does not bear fruit. Today the abortion lobby is all about loud and proud, abortion on demand without apology.”

She also pointed to statistics that show teen abortions in the United States and in Maine are on a decline. “From 2007 to 2017 teenage abortions have declined 52 percent,” Vachon said. “This bill is overkill.”

Only one lawmaker spoke in opposition to the bill Thursday. State Rep. Kathy Javner, a Republican from Chester, said the shortfall in Maine Family Planning’s budget was based on a decision it made, not because the funds had been taken away.

“The funding is out there, they simply said, ‘No thank you,'” Javner said, noting that the bill would grow the state’s budget by $2 million a year and would be paid for by state taxpayers.

But several lawmakers backing the bill said they, like Gideon, had depended on Planned Parenthood for part of their health care needs earlier in their lives.

Sen. Marianne Moore, a Republican from Calais, said that Planned Parenthood was the only option for birth control services. She said without the organization, many people from all age groups in her district would have to travel great distances or go without some of the basic health care services provided by Maine Family Planning.

The funding in the bill also would support family planning services and counseling at the state’s five school-based health centers, which are located in high schools from Calais to Portland and are funded in part through the state’s general fund. Those centers provide medical care to low-income students who may have not other health care access, Moore said.

She reiterated that none of the money in the legislation would be used directly to provide abortions.

Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, also said that Planned Parenthood was her only source of health care when she was younger. Breen said she paid what she could, but having access to affordable health care when she was younger allowed her to complete high school and college, start a career and become financially stable.

The committee is likely to vote on the measure at a work session scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday.

 

 

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