Thank You for Funding the Front Lines of Reproductive Health

Our 2018 #PledgeAProvider campaign has come to an end, and thanks to your generosity, we brought in over $11,000 to fund Maine Family Planning health care, sexuality education, and advocacy programs.

The goal with this campaign was, as MFP board member Liz Hays wrote in a powerful op-ed published in the Portland Press Herald, “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.”

We heard from members of the MFP team about why they do this work, what they hear most from patients, and what they wish they could say to the anti-abortion picketers who spent more than six weeks camped out across the street with gruesome, misleading signs.

For me, one of the best parts of this effort was seeing how eager staffers were to participate — how much they wanted to share their thoughts and values, how proud they were of the care we provide, and how compassionate they are, not just to our patients but even to our opponents. We truly have an amazing team of providers, in the broad sense of the term, at Maine Family Planning.

Thank you for supporting them, and for helping us fund those at the front lines of reproductive health.

Did you miss any of our posts? Most of them ended up on our Twitter feed:


The Key to Healthy Relationships: Comprehensive Sex Ed

Banner for Comprehensive Sexuality Education Conference

The Maine Family Planning team is gearing up for our 13th annual Comprehensive Sexuality Education Conference, taking place on Friday, April 6.  With a timely keynote from renowned expert Dr. Elizabeth Schroeder; inspiring workshops covering a broad range of topics; and ample opportunities for networking and learning from peers, the sex ed conference really is a comprehensive experience for health educators, school nurses, classroom teachers, and anyone else tasked with helping Maine youth navigate sexuality, gender, and relationships in the #MeToo era.

Workshops reflect the diversity of challenges that sexuality educators face—from gender bias and working with LGBTQ+ youth, to sex ed in immigrant communities, to “consent in the classroom.” Our presenters represent a host of allied Maine organizations and are experts in their respective fields. And our “chat rooms” offer participants a chance to process what they learn and explore other relevant topics.

We spoke with conference coordinator Lynne Kaplowitz, who shared a little bit about the history of the conference, what to expect this year, and what she’s most looking forward to next Friday.

How has the Comprehensive Sexuality Education Conference grown and evolved over 13 years? What was the impetus for launching the conference and what makes it unique in Maine (and beyond)?

Maine Family Planning had 17 family life educators and outreach staff statewide when the conference first started.  Our education and outreach staff heard that teachers needed resources and help teaching sexuality education.  We felt that a yearly conference would provide these opportunities.  We have been told that a conference for school staff and other health educators that focuses on sexuality education is a unique opportunity to bring these educators together in a learning environment.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Helping Youth Navigate the World of Relationships Through Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” How did this theme come to be, and why is it important for sexuality educators in 2018?

After several years of themes that strayed from a focus on sexuality education, the conference planning committee felt that it was imperative to come back to our roots and the foundational knowledge that educators need in order to teach sexuality education.  We feel that the key to healthy relationships is a good foundation in sexuality education.

What can attendees expect from this year’s conference? What’s new and different?

Dr. Elizabeth Schroeder, one of our most popular keynote speakers from a past conference, will return to Maine with a timely keynote and workshop.  We will also offer a response and proactive information in the wake of the Me Too movement.  Our chat rooms will focus on Maine organizations that provide resources to schools and organizations.

This year’s workshops explore cutting-edge topics ranging from sex ed in immigrant communities to porn consumption among young people to digital outreach with a queer and trans focus. How are workshops selected and how do you feel they reflect the concerns of today’s youth?

Our conference committee reviews proposals from Maine organizations and educators to find the most current and timely proposals that address our theme.  Many of the workshop proposals that weren’t selected have become chat rooms so that participants can learn about these great organizations.  We feel that our committee chose the workshops that would help educators work with youth.

How did you become involved in the conference and what is your current role? What is most rewarding about this aspect of your work?

My role at Maine Family Planning has evolved over the 20 years that I’ve worked here.  I am the conference coordinator and training coordinator for the organization.  It is very rewarding to interact with educators and to see how the content of the conference helps them in their daily work.

What are you personally most looking forward to on April 6?

Hearing from teachers and school nurses about current issues with students. Learning about the training needs of educators. Listening to Elizabeth Schroeder’s perspective on sexuality education.

There’s still time to register for this exciting day of learning. Click here to sign up. 

Tell us you’re coming here

#PledgeAProvider: Meet Kate, Our Public Policy Advocate

The Maine Family Planning #PledgeAProvider campaign, our answer to 40 days of anti-abortion picketing, is coming to a close. In the coming days, I’ll post a round-up of the fantastic quotes and recordings we’ve shared over the last six weeks, introducing you to members of our amazing team. We’ve raised over $10,000—a powerful reminder that our organization has deep support in Maine and beyond.

Reproductive rights advocates gather during training session.
Kate (far left, in red) pictured with a group of Fighting Forward advocacy trainees.

Today, let’s meet Kate. As the public policy advocate for Maine Family Planning, she spends her time talking with policy-makers about reproductive justice. She fights for every person’s ability to choose to have a child, to choose not to have a child, and to raise the children we have in conditions of safety and dignity.

Here’s more, directly from Kate:

I have the privilege of being the public face of Maine Family Planning’s abortion providers. When I talk to policy-makers and the public about abortion, a lot of what I do is dispelling myths and misconceptions about who has abortions, what abortion is like, and the quality of care people get in our health centers.

The short answers?

For several years, my office door opened onto the waiting room in an MFP health center that provided abortion care. Every week, I saw women coming into the waiting room anxious, overwhelmed, emotional. I saw the way they were treated by every member of MFP’s staff, from the front desk to the medical assistants and nurses to the doctors. And I saw the way patients felt when they walked out of our door. These providers don’t make judgments about their patient’s lives and choices, they just support them and help them get the health care they need. No matter what else is happening outside of our doors, our providers make sure our patients know they are safe and supported inside our health center.  

Abortion providers could teach the rest of the health care system a thing or two about how to care for their patients. In fact, if every health care provider was a little more like abortion providers, we’d all be better off.

When you #PledgeAProvider, you’re supporting folks like Kate and the providers she’s praising. Help fund the front lines of reproductive health: http://bit.ly/2D5Ihmq

And thank you.

Show Your Support as We Face Down Anti-Abortion Picketers

Abortion protest signs

Beginning February 14 and lasting 40 days through March 25, anti-abortion picketers are gathered every day outside the Maine Family Planning clinic in Augusta. Bearing deceptive signs and posters, their goal is to shame and intimidate patients who come to us seeking all types of health care, including abortion.

Unsurprisingly, this noxious demonstration takes its toll on our dedicated staff, who must pass by the protesters and their paraphernalia just to get to work in the morning!

That’s why, for 2018, we are shifting the focus of our famous “Pledge A Picketer” campaign. This year, we’re asking supporters to Pledge A Provider instead. 

The protesters are here for 40 days. But we’re here day in and day out, on the front lines of reproductive health. From caring for our patients to staffing our call center, from performing abortions to educating Maine’s youth, each of us helps provide comprehensive reproductive health care to Maine women, men, and teens.

As part of the #PledgeAProvider campaign, we’re introducing you to some of the folks who do this work in Augusta and at our 17 other locations statewide. By making a gift to Maine Family Planning during this time, you support the people who put reproductive rights into action every day.

Here’s just a sampling of the inspiring messages we’ve shared so far:

Pledge A Provider - Priscilla

Trump’s Dangerous Budget Proposal

The Trump Administration’s budget proposal released yesterday is an affront to women and families nationwide. It targets abortion providers like Maine Family Planning by prohibiting any Health and Human Services funding, including Medicaid and family planning funding, from going to any clinic or health care facility that also offers abortion services. While the move is unsurprising, it is no less unsettling. This is an ideological attack that, if implemented, will only erect additional barriers to health care for poor, low-income, and vulnerable people.

Furthermore, President Trump’s budget makes harmful cuts to a wide range of safety net programs; allocates no money to teen pregnancy prevention while promoting ineffective abstinence-only sex ed; and flat funds the Title X family planning program, leaving health care providers like Maine Family Planning without adequate resources to serve our communities. We oppose this damaging blueprint and will do all we can to ensure its misguided priorities never see the light of day.

Fighting Forward, Together

Reproductive rights advocates at Maine Family Planning training

Last weekend, 12 dedicated women joined Maine Family Planning staff for the inaugural, intensive Fighting Forward Abortion Advocacy Training. While hundreds of Mainers participated in anniversary Women’s Marches and related events, our spirit of resistance to attacks on reproductive rights took a less visible but equally important form. The impetus for the training was a desire to honor 45 years since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in the United States, while addressing the stubborn existence of social, medical, and political stigma that pushes meaningful access to abortion out of reach for too many. After an intensive year of ongoing mobilization and passionate lobbying of elected officials—something that is new for many and familiar to others—there are Mainers who are ready to deepen their skill sets and diversify tactics. We recognize that even though a majority of Americans support abortion rights in most instances, mystification remains about the procedure itself, the realities of access, and how to deeply engage with others about a topic so shrouded in stigma.

Fighting Forward set out to demystify the clinical procedure and marry this new understanding with exercises that foreground values-based conversations supported by data from reputable sources. Our inaugural class jumped right in, sharing their most pressing questions and the rhetoric they’ve found most difficult to engage, as well as how their personal values and views around abortion may have shifted over time. This inspiring, inter-generational group of women, who hailed from communities including Fairfield, Portland, Belfast, and Orono, modeled how to bring the raging spirit of a march to the quiet, daily conversations that shift our language, thinking, and actions away from stigma and toward a world where rights to bodily autonomy and self-determination are actualized. We couldn’t be more proud to play a role in helping champions of reproductive rights find their voices.

Saturday was just the first of several trainings Maine Family Planning staff will complete this year with cohorts across the state. Our goal is to foster a statewide network of informed, skilled, and confident abortion rights advocates who are prepared to instigate culture shifts and push for significant legislative victories on reproductive rights. Following this first session, we can already feel how much more powerful our passion becomes when we make investments in each other’s’ leadership and channel our energies effectively. We’re digging in for the long haul, and we can’t wait for you to join us!

Sign up for our March 2nd Fighting Forward training in Belfast today: https://goo.gl/forms/Wht4bcptOOark4XJ2

The Supreme Court Takes on Fake Clinics

US Supreme Court

2018 could mark a turning point in the fight against so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs), those fake clinics that lie to women in order to deter them from getting an abortion.

CPCs have been in the news lately, and we’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months—especially with the Supreme Court set to take a closer look at CPCs during its current term.

There are at least seven CPCs spread throughout Maine. For the most part, they operate as the roughly 3,000 CPCs nationwide do: by spreading misinformation, sowing unnecessary fear, and perpetuating stigmas around abortion, birth control, and sex. Furthermore, as Hannah Ruhlin recently wrote at the Maine Beacon, “CPCs often lie about the realities of abortion clinics, painting them as cold places where abortion is the only option.”

What we know, of course, is that abortion care providers like Maine Family Planning offer a wide range of comprehensive reproductive health care services, and that our expert clinicians are anything but cold; they offer compassionate and non-judgmental care to anyone who walks through the door.

Several states and municipalities have attempted to regulate CPCs by requiring them to disclose what they are (and what they are not, namely: medical facilities) and to fully inform women about their options regarding abortion, birth control, and prenatal care.

One of those states is California, with its Reproductive FACT Act—and that’s what the US Supreme Court will be looking at this spring.

As SCOTUSblog explained in November:

[T]he justices agreed to weigh in on a challenge by “crisis pregnancy centers” – nonprofits that try to steer pregnant women away from having abortions – to a California law that requires the centers to convey specific messages. The law mandates that nonprofits that are licensed to provide medical services post notices to inform their patients that free or low-cost abortions are available and to provide the telephone number of the state agency that can put the patients in touch with providers of those abortions. The groups that are not licensed to provide medical services – but try to support pregnant women by supplying them with diapers and formula, for example – must include disclaimers in their advertisements to make clear – in up to 13 languages – that their services do not include medical help.

The nonprofits went to court, arguing that California’s law violates the First Amendment, both by requiring them to convey the messages and, because the requirements do not apply to clinics that perform abortions, by targeting them because they discourage women from seeking abortions. A federal district court rejected their arguments, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed. The nonprofits went to the Supreme Court last spring, hoping that it would agree to rule on their case. After asking the lower court to send the record in the case – a sure sign that at least one justice is looking at the case closely — today the court granted review to decide whether the disclosures required by the California law violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause; it declined to decide whether the disclosures run afoul of another part of the First Amendment that bars the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled. This will be the first abortion-related case with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

Back in November,  Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the decision (likely to come down at the end of June) “could set the stage for how courts treat abortion rights for decades to come. As right-wing groups increasingly spread lies about abortion and basic reproductive health care, this case is an early test of whether the Supreme Court can guarantee our rights in the Trump era, including access to abortion care.”

Indeed, Media Matters abortion rights and reproductive health researcher Julie Tulbert warned at the end of December that we can expect a right-wing PR campaign on behalf of CPCs to “ramp up” in 2018.

“As the Supreme Court debates and decides NIFLA v. Becerra in 2018, the media should call out CPCs when they use deceptive tactics, and resist promoting the inevitable right-wing spin that free speech of such organizations is being unduly impeded,” Tulbert wrote.

Constitutional law scholar Robert A. Sedler explained in an op-ed just this week why, “[i]n my opinion, the California law does not violate the First Amendment. It doesn’t compel the clinics to say or not say anything, only to post truthful information provided by the state.”

“The Constitution enables the state to require that pregnant women seeking medical advice and assistance with their pregnancy have complete and accurate information so that they can make a fully informed choice,” wrote Sedler. “That is what this case is all about.”

Maine Family Planning will be watching and we’ll keep you updated as arguments are scheduled.

What Does Net Neutrality Have to do with Reproductive Rights?

FCC Net Neutrality

You may have heard that earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—helmed by Trump appointee Ajit Pai—voted to gut the open internet principle known as Net Neutrality. This move is direct threat to women’s health, reproductive justice, and all movements that use the Internet to educate, organize, and fight back. But there’s still a chance to save the Internet as we know it.

Enacted in 2015, Net Neutrality prohibits internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content, applications, or websites you want to use.

As such, “It preserves our right to communicate freely online,” says the advocacy group Free Press. “Net Neutrality means an internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that ISPs should provide us with open networks—and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Just as your phone company shouldn’t decide who you call and what you say on that call, your ISP shouldn’t interfere with the content you view or post online.”

Experts have pointed out how dismantling Net Neutrality could impact everyone from those involved in the #MeToo movement, to communities of color, to small business owners, to low-income people.

“Particularly damning is what today’s repeal will mean for marginalized groups, like communities of color, that rely on platforms like the internet to communicate, because traditional outlets do not consider their issues or concerns, worthy of any coverage,” wrote FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn in her dissenting opinion to the December 14 vote.

And doing away with Net Neutrality could really hurt women, the reproductive justice movement, and anyone who needs the kind of reproductive health care services we provide here at Maine Family Planning.

“Without a free and open internet, anti-choice extremists could pay to block access to accurate information about reproductive health,” NARAL Pro-Choice America recently warned. “Imagine a world where a woman searches the internet but can find no information on how to access an abortion.”

Once upon a time, that might have sounded far-fetched. But given the Trump administration’s transparent war on women, it’s a future sadly worth considering…and girding against.

What’s more, the end of Net Neutrality could spell trouble for Maine Family Planning’s groundbreaking telemedicine services, which include abortion care. Loosening the reins on mega-telecom companies and allowing them to engage in something called “paid prioritization”—establishing “fast lanes” for sites that pay, and slow lanes for everyone else—would be bad news for rural patients who access health care services at home.

As Modern Healthcare reported:

Those differing speeds could hurt telemedicine since it requires a “pretty robust connection,” said Mei Kwong, interim executive director and policy adviser for the Center for Connected Health Policy. “The last thing you want is for the interaction to suddenly freeze or the audio to go out or for the picture to be pixelated.”

Similarly, a panel of public health experts wrote in Health Affairs earlier this year:

Increasingly, telemedicine is being used to bring higher-end health care services to remote and rural areas to reduce health disparities. For telemedicine to be scalable and positively impact cost and outcomes, there must be a predictable infrastructure connecting patients, care providers, and technology. A prerequisite for telemedicine is broadband connectivity between telehealth sites. Reliable low cost service for telehealth is potentially threatened by the loss of [Net Neutrality or NN]. What happens to telehealth if Netflix traffic is preferred above medical applications? Could Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer better services for one hospital system than another, helping them take over telehealth in a region? The undoing of NN weakens the infrastructure of reliable low cost connectivity that telehealth systems depend upon.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also declared in a letter to the FCC before the vote:

“AAP is opposed to the implementation of paid prioritization because of its detrimental effects on the elimination of health disparities, efficiency of healthcare, and access to health information by parents and caregiver. If healthcare providers do not have the financial resources necessary to purchase priority Internet access, they may not be able to provide the efficacious, patient-centered, cost effective care recommended as part of the ongoing transformation and reform of our nation’s healthcare system.”

Every day, Maine Family Planning works to increase health care access for rural and low-income women. Undoing Net Neutrality puts that access at risk.

Congress can still step in to restore the open Internet that the general public wants and deserves by overturning the FCC’s order through a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act. Write or call your Member of Congress now.

In Maine, Rep. Bruce Poliquin in particular needs to hear from us.

Learn more at battleforthenet.com.

Weighing the Benefits (and Risks) of Birth Control

study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found a slightly elevated breast cancer risk among women who used low-dose hormonal birth control.

The roughly 20 percent increased risk of breast cancer—similar to the extra breast cancer risk contributed by physical inactivity, excessive weight gain in adulthood, or drinking an average of one or more alcoholic drinks per day—was found to be the same no matter what method of hormonal birth control was used.

When we spoke to Maine Family Planning medical experts, they said women and teens contemplating hormonal birth control (like the Pill, or long-acting reversible contraceptives/LARCs) should not be alarmed by the new research.

For one thing, this was an observational study and therefore it does not prove conclusively that hormonal contraception is definitely the cause of the increased risk—only that it may be a factor, just like female gender or advancing age.

As Aaron Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, further explained in Sunday’s New York Times: “This was a prospective cohort study, meaning it was an observational study that followed women over time and saw what happened to them naturally. The data set didn’t allow for adjusting for some factors that could also be associated with breast cancer, like age at first menstruation; whether women breast-fed; whether they consumed alcohol and how much; whether they were physically active; and more. The study found only an association, and not causal proof you might obtain from a randomized controlled trial.”

For another, the increased risk documented by the researchers is still quite small, amounting to one additional case of breast cancer in every 1,500 women. And young women bear even less of the impact.

“The absolute increase in risk [found in the study] is 13 per 100,000 women overall, but only 2 per 100,000 women younger than 35 years of age,” wrote epidemiologist David Hunter, of the University of Oxford, in an editorial accompanying the study in NEJM.

Meanwhile, hormonal contraception continues to carry well documented benefits, including its efficacy in preventing unwanted pregnancy (which carries its own significant health issues), and substantial reductions in ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers later in life. The New York Times spoke with a number of doctors who cautioned against reading too much into the research findings:

While the new study’s findings about breast cancer are important, “these results are not a cause for alarm,” said Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, a professor of women’s health at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“It’s really problematic to look at one outcome in isolation. Hormonal contraception has a complex matrix of benefits and risks, and you need to look at the overall pattern.”

“When it comes to making your own personal health choices, you need to consider the entire set of benefits and risks,” said Kohar Der Simonian, MD, Medical Services Director for Maine Family Planning. “If you have concerns, the best thing to do is to bring them to your doctor or health care provider and find the solution that’s the right fit for you, as an individual.”

Here’s more from Bedsider.

For Maine Women & Families, Susan Collins Must Vote NO on Disastrous Tax Bill

Red alert! Senator Susan Collins is caving and she needs to hear from YOU—today and every day until the Senate votes on the morally vacant tax bill.

There are myriad ways this cruel legislation would hurt low-income and middle-class folks—all in the name of giving tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy—but we are particularly concerned by how the proposal could impact women and families. Not only does the bill cut key deductions that help Mainers make ends meet, but it tries to sneak in major policy changes that have nothing to do with “tax reform,” like gutting Obamacare and inserting anti-abortion language into an obscure provision on college savings. Bottom line: The tax bill is an abomination and it must be defeated.

From eliminating the student loan interest deduction and certain childcare credits to raising taxes on families that have serious and costly medical conditions, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” includes many provisions that will make it harder for lower-income women and families to get by. Multiple analyses have shown that the tax plan’s biggest beneficiaries will be Wall Street titans and the super-rich, while middle- and lower-income households will see few, if any, benefits.

And then there’s the stealth attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate through the tax bill. Putting aside that the some members of Congress just can’t seem to accept the fact that the American public doesn’t want Obamacare to go away, this is a dangerous proposal that would result in an estimated 13 million people losing their health coverage.

According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, without the individual mandate, Mainers could see their premiums go up by as much as $3,000 in Maine’s more economically-depressed regions and the state’s uninsured rate would go up from 6.8 percent to 11.8 percent within 10 years.

When folks lose their health insurance, it puts more pressure on organizations like ours—Title X-funded health care providers who serve low-income, uninsured patients every day. When you consider that the Trump administration is simultaneously waging war against birth control affordability and family planning providers (not to mention the “anti-abortion Easter egg” tucked into the tax bill), you have a perfect storm with women’s health and autonomy in its eye.

Call Senator Collins TODAY and urge her to vote NO on the obscene tax bill. Urge her instead to support proposals that improve the health and well-being of Maine women and families. Together, we can make our voices heard.

Call (202) 224-2523 now.

Or call one of her state offices (you can call any office, not just one near you):
Augusta – (207) 622-8414
Bangor – (207) 945-0417
Biddeford – (207) 283-1101
Caribou – (207) 493-7873
Lewiston – (207) 784-6969
Portland – (207) 780-3575