At Augusta rally, doctors warn that attack on reproductive services poses danger to rural women

Eighty people bearing signs that read “Defend Title X” attended a press conference in Augusta on Tuesday about the Trump administration’s proposed Domestic Gag Rule, which health experts and doctors warn would make it harder for low-income Mainers to access affordable birth control and critical reproductive services, like abortions.

“The Gag Rule essentially interferes with the patient-provider relationship,” said Maine Family Planning president George Hill. “It’s just bad medicine.”

The rule would restrict Title X projects, which provide family planning and preventative care to over 22,000 Mainers, from performing, promoting, referring patients for, or supporting abortion as a method of family planning unless a patient explicitly states they want to have an abortion. Even then, patients can only be given a list of other health care providers who may, or may not, offer abortion services.

Because organizations like Maine Family Planning receive federal and state funding, they’re able to charge patients on a sliding-fee scale, providing low-income Mainers access to free contraceptives and reproductive care. Hill estimates that for about 60 percent of patients, their visit to Maine Family Planning is the only medical attention they’ll get all year.

If the Gag Rule takes effect, according to Hill, the limited care these patients receive will become less comprehensive and transparent, forcing providers to play what Hill calls “medical hide-and-seek with patients.”

“Forcing a patient to have to make phone calls and talk to a stranger, asking them, ‘Hey, do you offer abortion services as part of your practice?’ That’s not fair,” Hill continued.A patient relies on their initial provider to say, ‘Here are some referrals.’ It used to be that the standard was, if a patient asked about abortion services, to give them a list of three reputable organizations that make abortion services available.”

Underscoring the danger of not having such information available, Pediatrician Stephen Meister, the president of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told those assembled a harrowing story from when he worked in a pediatric emergency room. Escorted by her mother, a 17-year-old girl suffering from puerperal sepsis, a bacterial infection caused by an abortion she had at an unlicensed clinic, came in through the back door.

“She’s limping. Her face is drooped on the left side, and the right arm and right leg are weak. She is leaning on her mother, and she has a 105 degree fever,” he said. “What happened was she didn’t have money. She couldn’t get Medicaid to pay for her abortion. So she went to an unlicensed abortion clinic.”

Meister explained that as a result of the infection, the young woman suffered a stroke and had to be resuscitated, resulting in a serious brain injury.

Also speaking a the press conference, Jodi Bolduc, a mother and MFP patient from Livermore, remarked on how growing up in one of Maine’s many small, rural communities often meant limited access to health care services and information.

“When I was a kid, my family didn’t have the tools or know-how to talk about the often uncomfortable topics related to sexuality,” she said. “As a young, sexually active teenager with limited resources, I was incredibly fortunate to have had an older neighbor tell me about Maine Family Planning, where I could access reproductive health care, confidentially and by myself, and it could be free.”

MFP and a dozen other Maine-based organizations have signed on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is accepting comments on the proposed rule change until July 31.

“The proposal flouts science and medical ethics, interfering with the provider-patient relationship and eliminating the requirement that family planning programs provide: comprehensive options counseling to pregnant women, including about abortion; medically accurate health care; and the full range of proven contraceptive methods,” the letter reads.

“Furthermore, by prohibiting organizations from providing abortion services and federally funded family planning services at the same location, the rule would endanger the very existence of safety net clinics that provide high-quality reproductive health care in under-served communities.”

Signatories include: Maine Family Planning, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), ACLU of Maine, Maine Women’s Lobby, Suit Up Maine, Maine Academy of Family Physicians, Maine Providers Standing Up for Health Care, Mabel Wadsworth Feminist Health Center, Maine Trans Net, Maine Equal Justice Partners, Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights, American Academy of Pediatrics – Maine Chapter, Consumers for Affordable Health Care, Maine People’s Alliance, National Council of Jewish Women, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Maine Primary Care Association, Maine Health Equity Alliance, Southern Maine Workers’ Center, Mainers for Accountable Leadership, gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills, and several individual providers.

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