Maine Family Planning refuses $2 million in federal funds over ‘gag rule’

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The crowd listens as Kate Brogan, vice president of public affairs at Maine Family Planning, speaks at a Planned Parenthood rally in Portland's Monument Square, Sept. 29, 2015.
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In the short term, the organization said it will use its own reserve funds to make up for the shortfall.
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The organization that receives and distributes Maine’s share of federal family planning funds will turn down that funding — nearly $2 million a year — as the Trump administration enforces new restrictions on what its providers can tell clients about abortion.

The rejection of funds from the Title X National Family Planning Program means Maine Family Planning, which has been Maine’s grantee for the federal funds for nearly 50 years, will forfeit about 30 percent of its revenue, according to Deirdre Fulton-McDonough, spokeswoman for the Augusta-based organization. But turning down the funds means the organization and other clinics to which it distributes the federal funding won’t have to comply with the new federal rule.

The announcement from Maine Family Planning came the same day the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it would immediately begin enforcing the rule barring Title X-funded providers from referring clients to abortion services — a provision opponents call the “gag rule.” The department said its enforcement of another part of the rule, which requires that facilities offering abortion be physically separated from those offering federally funded reproductive health care services, will begin next year.

The Title X funding has supported a network of clinics around Maine, including 18 run by Maine Family Planning and 30 by others providers that receive Title X funds through the organization. The network serves 23,000 low-income women, men and teens each year, offering birth control, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and other services, according to Maine Family Planning.

There are no immediate plans to close any clinics in the absence of the federal funding because that would disproportionately impact poor and rural Mainers, Maine Family Planning President George Hill said.

“MFP is committed to preserving Maine’s robust family planning network, but the current situation is untenable,” he said.

In the short term, the organization will use its own reserves to make up for the shortfall, Hill said.

Hill also said Tuesday that donations to Maine Family Planning have increased “marginally” since the group filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Trump administration rule, but there “has not been a groundswell.”

“We’re very grateful for it,” he said.

The organization does not plan to return funds it has already received to the government, Hill said. It simply will no longer receive the $150,000 a month in federal money it has received since April 1, the beginning of the most recent funding cycle. Under that formula, the actual amount Maine Family Planning expects to decline this funding cycle is closer to $1.35 million than $2 million.

In addition to reproductive health services, Maine Family Planning separately provides abortion care at its 18 direct-service sites throughout Maine. No federal money is used to provide abortion services, the organization said. Using federal funds to pay for abortions would be a violation of federal law.

Maine Family Planning has called the requirement that abortion be offered in separate facilities from other reproductive health services cost-prohibitive. Complying, Hill said, “would mean closing up to 85 percent of health centers providing abortion care and forcing unethical limitations on medical professionals.”

“None of the gag rule’s provisions are rooted in public health,” he said. “In fact, by increasing barriers to birth control, abortion care, and a wide range of sexual and reproductive health care services, the gag rule would make our state less healthy. We cannot abide by this attack.”

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said Tuesday that her administration would work with Maine Family Planning “to evaluate if there is any way state government can be helpful.”

Maine Family Planning will continue to challenge the Trump administration rule in federal court. An appeal of U.S. District Judge Lance Walker’s refusal to keep the gag rule from going into effect is pending before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

 



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