Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded the alarm about a troubling trend: a rapidly accelerating epidemic of sexually transmitted infections across the country.

Newborn syphilis, which occurs when a pregnant patient isn’t treated in a timely manner, increased tenfold over the last decade. That’s a staggering statistic, particularly because an infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and lifelong medical issues.

We aren’t immune to this trend here in Maine. Syphilis cases are on the rise, including the first case of congenital syphilis in 30 years identified last year. Health officials are calling for a concerted effort to make sure pregnant patients get the support and care they need.

At Maine Family Planning, we’re serving more patients than ever – but without the funding to match. That’s one reason we support L.D. 1478, a bill introduced by Sen. Teresa Pierce to invest in Maine’s family planning network, and we urge the Legislature to fund this bill.

Our family planning network served more than 32,000 people last year at more than 60 health centers across the state. Our providers are critical in delivering essential care that many would not have access to otherwise: from contraceptive care to diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections; to treatment or referral for cervical cancer to breast cancer screening; to pregnancy testing, intrauterine insemination, vasectomies, behavioral health and primary care.

To provide this care, we rely on a combination of state and federal funding. And even though the services we provide are more important than ever before, unstable funding sources and a lack of robust public investment, combined with rising costs of delivering patient-centered care, mean that some of our health centers can only afford to be open one day a week. That leaves too many patients without the access to care they need in their communities unless they can afford to travel long distances.


Unfortunately, we cannot rely on Title X, the federal source of support for these vital services. The same extremists who successfully overruled the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade have had Title X in their sights for decades. In 2019, we were forced to reject federal funds because accepting them would have meant accepting what’s known as the “gag rule.” The rule makes it illegal for our health providers to refer our pregnant patients for an abortion, even when they request one.

Here’s what this means for our patients: It’s more important than ever before that Maine step up with the funding to support family planning. The state has level-funded these vital services for nearly a decade, and now is the time to rectify it. Without it, we risk eroding our state’s essential public health infrastructure, especially for our most vulnerable communities and rural Mainers who may rely on our health centers to meet most of their health care needs.

Additional funding would allow our health centers to hire more staff, be open for more time and reach more people through proven strategies. For example, before the current legislative session ends, Maine Family Planning will receive a mobile medical unit at no cost and in perfect working order that could be used to serve people where they live. And we’re forming partnerships with other health care providers to deploy the unit to meet the needs of individuals who are unhoused, who are experiencing opioid use disorder or who, for a range of reasons, will not seek care in traditional settings.

But we need your help to continue helping our patients. We urge you to contact your lawmakers and ask them to fund Maine’s family planning network, which is a critical backbone of the state’s public health ecosystem. In fact, in many cases, a patient’s family planning visit is their only health care interaction each year. That’s why it’s critical we make investments to ensure we can continue to provide the care necessary for our state to thrive.

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