Maine Family Planning approaches policy, organizing and advocacy efforts with an aim to advance the primary principles of the Reproductive Justice framework. Namely, we want to ensure all people have the power and resources to: experience bodily autonomy; avoid having children; have children, and raise families in environments of dignity, safety and well-being. As part of this work, we need to identify which resources are essential for individuals, families and communities to thrive.
Particularly in light of the shifts away from ‘business as usual’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, MFP recognizes that access to reliable and affordable internet is critical to achieving economic, social, educational and reproductive equity. Disparity in who has access to quality internet service falls along entrenched lines of inequity, with rural, low-income, and Black, Indigenous and other People of Color less likely than white, urban and middle or upper-class peers to have reliable internet access. We do not accept this ‘digital divide’ as a given, which is why we are proud to endorse the Yes on 1 campaign, which supports a bond question on the July 14th ballot that allows Maine people to decide if we want to invest in expansion of broadband internet access to more of Maine’s communities.
Increasing broadband access in our largely rural state is not the end-all-be-all in achieving digital equity, but it is a necessary and critical first step. Every aspect of our ability to plan our reproductive futures and raise healthy families intersects with the need for internet access. Here are a few we are particularly concerned with in this moment.
• Health Care: As a provider operating more than a dozen clinics in some of Maine’s most rural towns, we are acutely aware of how the lack of a robust public transportation system leaves too many of our patients and neighbors behind. The same can be said of inadequate infrastructure for the “information super highway”. MFP is a statewide and national leader when it comes to innovating and expanding telehealth options for delivery of sexual and reproductive health services, increasing access via telemedicine for our rural and harder-to-reach patients who have reliable home internet service. Expanding broadband access is absolutely necessary in order to reach everyone who could benefit from telemedicine services, so we all have the same options for accessing care, wherever we live.
• Education: Whether occurring remotely during the pandemic or during a typical academic year, schooling requires that students can perform research, craft presentations, and connect with educators and peers online. The Maine Department of Education estimates that 20% of our state’s K-12 students do not have home internet. A study by The National Center for Education Statistics reports that students living below the poverty line have lower rates of home internet access than peers who live at or above the poverty line, and that American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic students have lower rates of home internet access than their peers who are White, Asian, and multiracial. Longstanding racial, class and geographic disparities within education are deepened by the digital divide. Raising families in healthy and secure environments requires unfettered access to a solid education for all.
• Employment: Searching and applying for jobs primarily occurs online these days, and the ability to acquire and hold onto remote working opportunities requires stable and high-speed internet access. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has shown strong correlation between household income and in-home connectivity, across both rural and low-income urban communities.
• Civic Participation: This pandemic has bought home the value of internet access for exercising the right to vote. Information about changes to this summer’s election day and recommendations for voters to submit absentee ballots to prevent community transmission have primarily spread through websites and social media channels. Voters’ ability to remain up to date on candidate forums, news reporting, and access full information about our elections is improved with the expansion of broadband. Advancing justice in Maine does not stop with voting, but it is a critical tool for electing leaders aligned with our values who will champion policy changes that encourage all Maine women, LGBTQ+ and families to flourish.
• Political Action: Grassroots social movements thrive on sharing critical information for mobilizing and protest, advocacy, canvassing, digital campaigns and calls to action via online platforms. While we at MFP are big fans of connecting with supporters and strangers in-person and over the phone, we recognize that online platforms are increasingly the fastest, most convenient and accessible methods for people to organize toward social justice. We believe that our movements will be stronger when everyone has the same ability to ‘plug in’ to dialogues, resources, and outreach and planning tools that are necessities for organizers in this era. We need all of us in order to build a world free of white supremacy and reproductive oppression and abundant with safe, healthy and empowered communities. Broadband expansion is an important step toward ensuring all of us have equitable access to tools for transforming society.
For all of these reasons and more, we at Maine Family Planning encourage supporters of reproductive health, rights and justice to show up (via mail-in ballot or masked at the polls) on Tuesday, July 14th and cast your ballot for YES on Question 1.
If you’d like to learn more about Yes on 1, you can register for a Virtual Town Hall Meeting this coming Monday, June 15th. We also encourage you to visit MFP’s Policy & Voter Info page of our website for more details about voting. You can also contact us with questions!