Category Archives: Reproductive Health Care

What Contraceptive Method is Best for Me? Part 3 – LARCs

So far in this blog series, we have focused on the two most common forms of birth control options used by teens; condoms and the birth control pill. For this post, we will be discussing LARCs. Of course, there are plenty of other birth control options, such as the Depo-Provera™ shot, the hormonal patch and NuvaRing®. These are also great options, but are much less popular than the condom, pill, and LARCs.

LARC is an acronym for long-acting reversible contraceptives. This means you get these types of birth control inserted into your body and basically don’t have to think about it again for anywhere between 3 and 12 years. Two great examples of long-acting reversible contraceptive options are the implant and the intrauterine device (IUD).

As with any birth control method, there are horror stories that scare teens away from taking the plunge and getting a LARC.  LARCs do seem like kind of a big deal, because you actually have to go to your doctor and have them inserted, but they are very safe and very effective. I, personally, have had both the implant and the IUD, and I can assure you, the insertion for each is not scary in the slightest bit.

For starters, let’s focus on the implant. The implant (Nexplanon®) is a little plastic bar that is inserted under the skin of your arm (around your bicep area) by your doctor. It contains the hormone progestin that works in two ways to prevent pregnancy; this hormone thickens your cervical mucus to keep sperm from reaching an egg, and it also works to prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg in the first place.

The implant can be a great option for teens because once it’s inserted, you never have to worry about it again for up to 4 years! Of course, using a condom as well is important because the implant does not prevent the contraction of STIs. Once the implant is inserted, it is nearly undetectable. You may have a tiny dot scar at the place of insertion, but besides that, nobody would ever know there was an implant in your arm. This is great for teens who don’t want people to know they are on a form of birth control!

The insertion process for the implant is simple! It is almost just like getting a shot. The implant is placed on the inside of your upper arm, and it is inserted through a needle. Before getting mine, my doctor went over the process and showed me the device used to insert the implant. It was nearly pain-free. The worse part of the process was getting a shot in my arm that numbed the area before the insertion! A lot of teens worry about birth control methods like the implant because it requires a doctor’s visit and a “procedure.” However, it is very simple, safe, and pain-free.

The implant can be expensive, but it is covered by most insurance plans! If you are not insured or do not want the implant to go through your parent’s insurance, check with your local Family Planning to see what options they might have for free or low-cost implants! The arm implant is over 99% effective, and it’s a great option for teens because there really isn’t any responsibility to maintaining that effectiveness like there is with the daily oral contraceptive.

The implant can cause some irregular bleeding or spotting for 3-6 months after insertion, but otherwise is very safe and free of any serious side effects. If you want more information about the implant, be sure to contact your local family planning clinic http://www.mainefamilyplanning.org/ or check out Bedsider for all the pros and cons of Nexplanon® here: https://www.bedsider.org/methods/implant#side_effects

The IUD is a bit different than the implant because it is a T-Shaped piece of plastic that is placed in your uterus. All IUDs work similarly by making your uterus too hostile an environment for pregnancy. There are hormonal IUDs that also use hormones to stop conception, and non-hormonal IUDs that prevent pregnancy without the use of hormones. The non-hormonal option is great for people who cannot have hormonal birth control!

There are four types of hormonal IUDs—Mirena®, Skyla®, Liletta®, and Kyleena™.  These hormonal IUDs are effective from anywhere between 3 and 6 years depending on which type is best for you. They vary in size as well, assuring that there is an IUD to fit every woman, regardless if they’ve had children or not.

There is only one type of non-hormonal IUD and it is Paragard®. Paragard® is made of plastic and copper and works for up to 12 years!

An IUD is a great birth control option for teens, because, like the implant, once it is inserted it will protect from an unwanted pregnancy until it is removed. Just like with the implant, it is important to continue to use condoms even after you have an IUD inserted. IUDs are excellent at preventing pregnancy, but they do not prevent STIs.

This can be a scary option for teens, because having an IUD inserted requires a doctor’s visit. You can get an IUD inserted at any point in your cycle, but it is best to do while you are on your period because that is the point during your menstrual cycle that your cervix is the most soft and open. Call your doctor or your local family planning clinic to find out if the IUD is a good option for you!

Like I stated above, I have had both an implant and an IUD. I, too, was terrified to take the plunge and get an IUD because I was worried that it might hurt! So, I want to tell you in detail how the whole insertion process works so you can know what to expect if you think an IUD is a good option for you.

Before getting an IUD, my doctor suggested taking Tylenol about an hour before my appointment. This is good because often there is some cramping after insertion, so the Tylenol makes that cramping a bit more bearable. Personally, I’ve always had pretty painful periods, so that’s the type of painful cramping I was expecting, and that’s just what it turned out to feel like. At the office, you’re asked to take your pants off and sit on the table with a sheet over yourself just like you would for a pap smear. Easy enough!

At my appointment, my doctor came in and explained in detail every little thing about the Mirena® IUD, and told me exactly how the insertion would be done. First, they would go in (using tools just like with a pap smear) and look at my cervix. The worse part of the whole process is a little pinch when they grab onto your cervix to steady it so they can get to your uterus. Honestly, the pinch was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t necessarily painful.

Once they’ve grabbed a hold of your cervix, the hard part is over! They first use a tool to measure your uterus (to make sure it’s the correct size for whatever IUD you have chosen,) and then they insert the IUD. Once it is inserted, they trim the little string attached to the device and you’re done! That little string will curl around your cervix in time. The string is there as a way to check that the IUD is still in the cervix where it belongs, and it comes in handy in 3-6 years when you’ll need to have your IUD removed.

If, after having an IUD inserted, your partner can feel it during sex, call your doctor. The string can be cut shorter if need be so that it can’t be felt during sex. Often if the string is cut too short in the first place, it can’t curl around the cervix and can poke your partner during sex.

You’ll usually have a follow up appointment in a month or so just to check that everything is all set. Often, this is a good time for the doctor to trim the string if your partner is feeling it during sex. After this checkup, your doctor will just check on that little string at your yearly exam.

After insertion of my IUD, I was a bit crampy for the rest of that day, but after that everything felt completely normal and suddenly I didn’t have to worry about taking a birth control pill at the same time every day anymore!

The costs for IUDs vary, but they are covered by most insurances. If you do not have insurance, contact your local family planning clinic to see if you can get an IUD for free or at a reduced cost.

IUDs are over 99% effective, and are the longest lasting form of birth control. This is also a great option because there are both hormonal and non-hormonal options. The Mirena® IUD is a good option for women who have heavy and painful periods, and it often stops women from having their period! As with any type of birth control, IUDs can cause some irregular bleeding in the first few months while your body adjusts, but this is normal. Lots of women stop having a period after the first few months of having an IUD.

If you have any questions, contact your local family planning clinic http://www.mainefamilyplanning.org/directories/24/clinic-locations or check out Bedsider for more detailed information about the pros and cons of IUDs here: https://www.bedsider.org/methods/iud#side_effects

Chynna is attending the University of Maine pursuing graduate work in the field of human development with a focus in human sexuality. She is originally from Maine and enjoys spending her free time taking her dog for walks on campus.

 

What type of contraception is best for me? Part 2 – The Pill

Let’s face it, even though condoms are the most accessible form of contraceptive for teens, they aren’t necessarily the “best” option out there. Condoms have to be used correctly every time you engage in sexual intercourse in order to prevent STIs and unplanned pregnancies. This is why it is highly recommended for people who are sexually active to “double up” on their birth control. This means that you use two forms of contraceptives instead of just one. The most common combination is using both condoms and oral contraceptives, i.e., the pill.

Condoms represent a barrier method of birth control, while the pill is a hormonal method. The pill works by regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle and preventing ovulation. In simpler terms, the pill prevents a woman’s ovary from releasing an egg. Without an egg, conception cannot occur because the sperm has nothing to fertilize. The pill also works by thickening cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus in the first place!

If used perfectly, the pill can be up to 99% effective! However, in order to be as effective as possible, the pill needs to be taken every day at approximately the same time of day. This can be difficult, especially in the hectic life of a teen! That is why using a condom as well helps to be sure than no unwanted pregnancies will occur. Condoms are also still important, even if you are on the birth control pill, because the pill does not work to prevent the contraction of STIs.

In order to get started on the pill, you need to make an appointment with your doctor or your local Maine Family Planning clinic and get a prescription for a monthly supply of an oral contraceptive. There are many different kinds of the pill that have different doses of the hormones estrogen and progestin, which work together to prevent ovulation and thicken cervical mucus. You can work with your doctor to select the pill with a combination of hormones that is right for you.

Once you have a prescription for birth control pills, you can even sign up to have them delivered to you each month through the mail so you don’t have to worry about getting to a pharmacy to pick up your prescription on time each month!  Maine Family Planning’s Meds by Mail:  CLICK HERE

If you have questions about cost and insurance, as well as possible side effects, don’t be afraid to contact Maine Family Planning. They can answer any questions you may have about getting a prescription for the birth control pill!

Chynna is attending the University of Maine pursuing graduate work in the field of human development with a focus in human sexuality. She is originally from Maine and enjoys spending her free time taking her dog for walks on campus.

Fighting for Medicaid is a Feminist Issue

Did you know that 1 in 5 American women in their reproductive years receive health insurance through the Medicaid program? In fact, Medicaid is a lifeline for nearly half of women in that age group who are below the federal poverty line, and nearly a third of Black women in that group (compared with 16% of white peers). Did you also know that LGBTQ+ people disproportionally experience poverty compared to heterosexual and cisgender people, making them more reliant on Medicaid for health care? Did you know that the Medicaid program covers care expenses for 51% of all births in the United States?

In this political moment, one of the country’s largest health care programs—designed to improve access and quality of life for low income people and those with disabilities—is under attack on both federal and state levels. Last month, the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed a vote in the House and stands to go up for a vote in the Senate. One of the many dangerous components of the AHCA is its targeting of the Medicaid program, which is an essential health care safety net for low income people, as well as a key facet of our nation’s family planning effort. Medicaid allows coverage for family planning services without copays, or penalties and red tape for choosing one type of contraceptive over another. The AHCA’s proposals to shift to a block grant or per capita cap structure for Medicaid would shift more costs to states, which would end up putting more costs on poor patients as well as their providers.

Unfortunately, Maine is also experiencing more localized attacks on our state Medicaid program, known as MaineCare. Maine is one of 19 states that have yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), due to Governor LePage’s multiple vetoes of this effort. Now, through a waiver application process, the Maine Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) is attempting to enact rule changes that would place even more barriers to health care before poor and disabled Mainers, and result in potentially thousands more losing MaineCare coverage. Luckily, Maine’s “state plan amendment” has allowed for Maine Family Planning clinics to extend free reproductive health care services to low-income Mainers who are otherwise not eligible for MaineCare. However, the DHHS proposal to eliminate retroactive coverage would have negative effects on our ability to continue offering this service to people who fall through the cracks of our current health care system.

Opponents of these changes spoke passionately at a public hearing in Portland yesterday. One advocate with Homeless Voices for Justice—Dee Clarke—asked blatantly, “Why are you trying to hurt us?” Several mothers, including Clarke, spoke about raising their children on MaineCare, which allowed them to care for their families in the best way possible while facing the daily challenges of living in poverty. A nurse midwife spoke against the proposed $5,000 asset test as one change that would punish many women seeking prenatal care whose families operate small businesses. As she so poignantly put it, “You can’t sell off your small business or farm to afford prenatal care.”

Both the data and human stories make it clear:  Defending and expanding Medicaid is a feminist issue with major implications for women and LGBTQ+ health. The political attacks on Medicaid are fueled by classist stereotyping and stigmatizing of poor people, and the harm disproportionately falls on poor women. Cutting Medicaid means rolling back access to reproductive health care as well. It means more unplanned pregnancies, less healthy pregnancies, and more sick mothers and babies. Progressive Maine organizations are fighting to expand MaineCare this year, and Maine Family Planning is joining them. We continue to fight every day for the well-being of Maine women, teens, and LGBTQ+ people.

If you’d like to learn more about how to get involved in this effort, contact Community Organizer Cait Vaughan at 207-480-3518 or at cvaughan@mainefamilyplanning.org.

Self-Induced Abortion – Questions & Resources

In light of ongoing legislative attacks and widespread uncertainty about the security of abortion rights and access, conversations and resources addressing self-induced abortion (SIA) are increasing. We at Maine Family Planning want to serve as a resource for pregnant people in Maine who are considering their options with regards to an unplanned pregnancy.

It’s important to note that pregnant people have always found ways to terminate pregnancies—whether with the assistance of healers and caregivers, medication or natural remedies, or in a clinical setting like a doctor’s office or family planning clinic. MFP provides a safe and supportive clinical setting for anyone seeking to exercise their legal right to abortion. We offer both aspiration and medication abortion. We strive to be a trusted community-based resource that respects our patients’ dignity and unique needs, while providing education and counseling, in addition to reproductive health care services. It is our sincere hope and highest goal that all individuals living in the service areas of our 18 clinics who need abortion care will feel comfortable seeking out the compassionate professionals at MFP.

We also acknowledge the reality that barriers to accessing abortion exist across the country, and in Maine. Especially noteworthy are lack of public insurance coverage for abortion care, minimal private insurance coverage for abortion care , transportation, work schedules and child care needs that make scheduling appointments challenging, as well as abortion stigma. Some individuals have experienced trauma at the hands of medical providers, and thus lack trust in such institutions. For others, the antagonism of protestors is an insurmountable barrier. Even when clinics like ours provide excellent, nonjudgmental care—there are many reasons why someone might not be able or comfortable seeking out an abortion in such a setting, including a strong personal desire to control their own experience.

When people discuss SIA, they are often referring to self-administering of the pills mifepristone and misoprostol. Some women are acquiring such pills online and self-inducing at home or another location, often with trusted loved ones and caregivers present. Some women have faced legal persecution for such practices, or for the purchasing of pills—so we want people considering this method to both be aware of resources for accurate information on SIA, as well as the potential legal consequences.

Women face difficult—and sometimes seemingly impossible—choices each day in navigating management of their fertility. We know that desperate individuals can resort to self-harm and violent attempts to end pregnancies that they do not wish to carry. MFP advocates and organizes daily for the rights to bodily autonomy and self-determination for women and anyone who can become pregnant. This often means opposing legislative measures that attempt to unjustly surveil and criminalize pregnant people, and advocating fiercely for safe abortion access. We believe in responding to inquiries and concerns from Maine women with scientific and evidence-based answers. We encourage you to reach out to us, as well as seek accurate and feminist sources of information in doing your own research.

Here are some additional resources on SIA and pregnancy options:

I’m TTC and I Support Access to Abortion: Here’s Why

My husband and I are trying to conceive (“TTC,” as they say on the message boards). As many have chronicled before me, this can be a challenging journey. Seems like an odd time to get involved with an organization that provides abortion and contraception, a special sort of cognitive dissonance. But it’s not. Let me explain why, and why I support Maine Family Planning and all the services it offers.

The truth is that my husband and I are not trying to conceive, we are trying to start a family. The two are not precisely the same, because a family is far more complicated than a pregnancy. This understanding is at the heart of the “family planning” that Maine Family Planning provides.

My husband and I are very fortunate that we have some control over the way in which we build our family. This feels strange to write, as often I feel very out of control of this process, but in ways that matter, it is the truth.

First of all, we have been able to select a time in our lives when we feel we have economic and domestic stability. This is lucky. This is because we had sex education and access to contraceptives throughout our younger adult years. Not all Mainers have that. Maine Family Planning offers both education and contraceptives and works with women and men at all stages of their reproductive lives.

And that economic and domestic stability into which we hope to bring our children? Not all Mainers have that either. Which is why Maine Family Planning actively works, in direct and indirect ways, to improve health and economic circumstances for women so they can parent through difficult times. Take, for example, MFP’s behavioral health and chronic condition management services at their Ellsworth clinic. Or the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), which provides supplemental food and farmers’ market vouchers for clients in Washington and Hancock Counties. These are much needed lifelines for a number of struggling Maine families. Furthermore, MFP works with state legislators and the Alliance for Maine Women to support bills that advance economic opportunities for low-income Mainers, especially women and mothers—bills like LD 1475, an Act to Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments in Families Today (more on that bill here).

Secondly, while my husband and I often feel helpless, we have lots of help—more medical providers than any one person wants in her life, to be honest. We are able to afford and access health professionals who provide testing, counseling, and care. If and when I should get pregnant, I will have them to answer my ten thousand questions about what pain reliever I can take and what fish I can eat and whether I should (or shouldn’t) go to the emergency room because I’ve had gas pains for three days straight. A luxury, right? It shouldn’t be. That’s why Maine Family Planning provides care and counseling to people wanting to start families and plan pregnancies.

But let’s get to the nittier, grittier stuff, the hard-to-wrap-your-head-around stuff, the “A” word: abortion. Although one of MFP’s prerogatives is increased access to abortion, its goal is not more abortions; its goal is stronger women and stronger families. The best way to decrease abortions is to prevent unintended pregnancy with education and contraception. (It is important to note here that not all abortions are because of unintended pregnancy; indeed many are medical decisions.) Still, until we live in that perfect world where unintended pregnancies don’t happen, MFP is here for Mainers—and has been for 45 years.

It’s possible that my husband’s and my journey to start a family will lead us to adoption. How could I possibly support an organization, then, that provides termination of pregnancies that might otherwise put children into the adoption system, children who might end up in my home? Unfortunately, this logic is based on a persistent fallacy that decreased abortion rates lead to increased newborn relinquishment. (Two articles about that here and here.) For many mothers, for many reasons, adoption is not necessarily an alternative to abortion. Furthermore, there are currently close to 2,000 children in Maine’s foster care system, with the need for homes far outpacing those available.

Last but certainly not least on the list of reasons I support Maine Family Planning: I hope to become a mother, in whatever way that unfolds. Because of this, I have thought long and hard about the world I want my children to live in, and I know I want it to be a world of choice and access. I believe my children should have at least the same kind of freedom and control over their bodies and reproductive choices that I’ve had over mine.

To support Maine Family Planning is to support Maine’s families, including perhaps eventually my own. We all have a stake in supporting MFP. I hope, one day, I’ll be able to explain that to my daughter.

Kathryn is a new MFP volunteer and advocate for reproductive rights and universal access to health care. She is a writer and teacher living in Maine.

Destigmatizing abortions:  the word, the act, and our reaction.

When and how did the word “abortion” become as abhorrent as a cuss word?  Even the whispered word can silence a room.  I know.  I’ve done it.  Who do we blame?  The “fake news” the “alternative facts” the “something-else-in-media-today”?!  With all the finger pointing flying around our legislative bodies maybe we need to look inward?  Maybe we need to let the trickle down trickle right to our doorsteps much like the spring rain.

Will making the word more mainstream help us?  Using it more in daily vernacular?  How about a challenge?   Humanize the word.  Think of the women, families behind the word.  Not all reasons for abortions are the same, think more like snowflakes.  All different, but all make snow.  All reasons for abortions are different – financial, life goals, timing, needs, wants, desires – but all make up the collective of abortions.

I am here to help.  At Maine Family Planning we ask women to share their stories.  Here is a handful:

“I love and adore the children I have and it’s my responsibility to make (the) right choices for them, without this service I could not accomplish this.”

“At 40 years old, faced with an unwanted pregnancy I made the choice to abort.  My choice – how lucky I am to have that choice and be taken care of by the most compassionate staff.”

“I am a single mother with two children who is struggling to just get by.  We live at a shelter and have no income.  I have been taking birth control and hadn’t had any problems.  I got pregnant with this child while using my pills.  Due to my situation, I decided that I would not be fair or right to bring this child into this family and to also take what little we have away from my two girls.  I truly feel that this abortion was the right choice for me at this time.”

“I came for my abortion and the protesters didn’t have any impact on me.  I had my procedure done due to medical reasons.  It was my choice and I do not feel guilty at all.”

“Some people say it’s not a choice; it’s a right but when you’re in a spot you need to do what you have to.  Trust us, it’s not easy but this world has its ups and downs.  You don’t know my reason.  I’m sure everyone has one and only God can judge you.”

“I am so thankful for having the right to choose.  Protesters and others don’t take into account the negative cycle of events that often occur when so many children are brought into this world by parents who are not mentally, financially, or emotionally prepared.”

“The thought of someone else making a decision about my body/my pregnancy is a very unsettling feeling.  It’s my body, my life, my choice.  America is the home of the free.  It’s my right to decide what happens with my body.”

Seven.  Seven stories to help you humanize an essential piece of women’s reproductive rights.

Maine Family Planning is committed to preserving all aspects of women’s reproductive rights and we are here for you.

Why we need Title X, Abortion Care & Maine Family Planning:

The Title X Family Funding Program gives federal funds to centers—including Maine Family Planning!—that provide services such as contraception, cancer screenings, STD testing, and much more. Enacted in 1970, it was designed to provide quality family planning care to low-income or uninsured persons who may not be able to afford it on their own. With funding from Title X, they can get the care they need at little to no cost. In 2013, it was estimated that
Title X-funded centers served 4.6 million clients nationwide (Guttmacher Institute 2015).

In 2014, approximately 20,000 Maine women received contraceptive services and supplies from
Title-X funded programs (Frost et al. 2016). Without funding from Title X, it’s likely that these women may not have received the contraceptive care they needed. Using contraceptive methods
such as birth control can have benefits in addition to preventing pregnancy such as regulating periods, preventing menstrual migraines, reducing acne, and relieving symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). So don’t let people fool you—there are MANY reasons to start using a contraceptive method beyond pregnancy prevention, and contraception services aren’t the only
services provided by Maine Family Planning and other Title X-funded centers.

Due to the Hyde Amendment (FMI HERE), no federal funds can be used for abortion services.  Maine is also a state where Mainecare coverage does not include abortion care.  Maine Family Planning believes that abortion care is a KEY piece of women’s health.

There are bound to be some people in your life saying they do not support a woman’s right to choose unless she has been sexually assaulted or if she will be harmed bringing a pregnancy to term. Often, people view abortion as a last resort, something that should only be considered when there’s nothing else to do. This creates the feeling of taboo, shedding a negative light on those who receive abortion care. Abortion shouldn’t be considered a last resort; it should simply be viewed as another option.

Everyone should have equal access to abortion care, no matter the reason for seeking abortion care, whether it’s sexual assault, harm to the mother, not wanting a child, not being able to afford another child, or any reason at all. The decision is valid; the choice resides with the person who’s pregnant, period.

Some of those people in your life who don’t support abortion may be participating in 40 Days for Life: a group that pickets at Maine Family Planning’s Augusta office every year. Consider fighting back—against them and the stigma surrounding a woman’s right to choose—by participating in our Pledge-A-Picketer campaign HERE.

Maine Family Planning also provides physical exams, pap smears, breast exams, transgender health care, and immunizations! Title X-funded family planning centers are essential for low-income or uninsured women—and men!—who may not be able to afford these services otherwise. It’s not just abortion and birth control; it’s so, so much more.

This is a guest post by Adam, one of Maine Family Planning’s student interns.  Adam is pursuing a degree in creative writing. When he’s not writing for class or for Maine Family Planning’s blog, he’s petting cats.

Sources:
Contraceptive Needs and Services, 2014 Update, Frost JJ, Frohwirth L and Zolna MR, 2016.
< https://www.guttmacher.org/report/contraceptive-needs-and-services-2014-update >

The Role of Reproductive Freedom in Ending Domestic Violence

The right to determine what happens to our own physical selves has everything to do with our safety and wellbeing.  Attacks bodily autonomy are central to the issue of domestic violence. The behavior of those who commit domestic abuse is rooted in the belief  that they have the right to make decisions about every facet of their partners’ lives, including their bodies.

Survivors tell us that their abusers, using a wide range of coercive tactics, dictate what they wear, when and what they eat, where they go, who they see, when they sleep, and whether they can hold their children in their arms. They tell us they are not allowed to say “no” to sex, and when they do they are assaulted. They tell us they are grabbed, touched, hit, kicked, stroked and held in ways they do not want, and which they are unable to repel. In short, abusive people systematically work to strip survivors of their autonomy and their ability to make choices for themselves without risk of retribution.

Often, abusers focus on their partners’ reproductive health as a means of maintaining control over their partners’ lives. This is called reproductive coercion, and it particularly—though not exclusively—impacts women, for whom a pregnancy can make the difference between breaking free of and being connected to their abusers forever, through shared parenting if not through the relationship.

Women tell us about preparing to end the relationship, having painstakingly put together plans for starting over—a place to go, some income, childcare and transportation—when they realize they are pregnant. Maybe he tampered with her pills, or maybe he poked holes in the condoms, or maybe he raped her. No matter the tactic, with a new baby all of those carefully laid plans are often rendered unworkable. Some women tell us that this happened to them more than once: “It’s like he always knew, just when I was getting ready to go.”

Others tell us about how their abusers kept them from ending a pregnancy, sometimes physically keeping them from going to a clinic for an abortion, sometimes showing behavior change that lasted only until the baby was born. And still others tell us about how their partners supported them, even encouraged them, to get an abortion—and then later used the knowledge of the procedure as a weapon, blackmailing and shaming them with it. Abusers are often perfectly willing to capitalize on the social stigma associated with abortion, as doing so allows them to isolate their partners even further.

Reproductive freedom matters for survivors of domestic violence. It matters because it is an essential part of safety planning around reproductive coercion. It matters because the ability to become pregnant leaves women vulnerable to abusers in a very specific set of ways, and women need to be able to manage that vulnerability in whatever way works best for them.

Reproductive freedom also matters because the belief that anyone other than a woman herself has the right to control what happens to her body is a key part of the culture than condones abuse in the first place. At the core, it is an abuser’s belief that his rights take precedence over hers that drives his behavior, and his belief has been culturally supported for millennia, in laws that treated women and children as property and gave men the final say over their lives.

In just one example, it was only in 1985 that raping one’s spouse was finally outlawed in Maine. Before that, our laws maintained that a husband’s right to his wife’s body was absolute; that once she was married, she had given up her right to choose when and if to engage in sexual activity. But by 1985, our understanding had evolved. We saw that women have the right to decide for ourselves what happens to our bodies—and that right must be recognized and upheld under the law.

The same understanding needs to be applied to our discussions around reproductive freedom.

Access to a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, not only helps survivors counteract the abusive tactics used by their partners, but it sends a message of accountability to abusers, as well. Because a culture that insists that only a woman can decide what happens to her body is one that will be able to stand beside survivors and affirm, “Your body is yours, and no one else’s, and we will support you in keeping it that way.”

Used with permission by MCEDv and also appeared on the MCEDV Voices Blog March 7, 2017

What is a community organizer and why does MFP have one?

Maine Family Planning would like to welcome guest blogger (and co worker) Cait:

I’m Cait, and I’m lucky enough to be Maine Family Planning’s new community organizer. I’ve been organizing with the statewide Health Care is a Human Right campaign for the past four years, and I’m very excited to bring my passion for human rights, reproductive justice, and a deep love of Maine people to my role at MFP.

One thing I get asked a lot is: What does a community organizer do? A lot of things! Here are a few that are very important:

  • Build people power. The overarching goal of community organizing is to put ordinary people in touch with their own power by learning about our rights, joining with others to analyze problems we face, and working collectively to advance solutions. Some solutions are policy-oriented, and to that end, I will build bridges between Maine people and what’s developing in Augusta and Washington, DC. My hope is to make sure that you know who represents you at the state house and in congress, and how to communicate with elected officials about the reproductive rights and justice issues that matter to you.
    Other problems we face around reproductive rights and justice are less concrete and more cultural—such as abortion stigma, ageist ideas on young people’s sexual and reproductive lives, or stigmatizing responses to addiction. In approaching these deeply embedded attitudes, we can build power through public education efforts and campaigns that tackle stigma; creating welcoming forums where communities share stories and build relationships; and other diverse, localized initiatives that bring people out of isolation and into contact with new information and ideas.
  • Listen. One of the most important things I’ll do in this role is ask questions & listen to the stories of clinic patients and providers, students, young people, parents, grandparents, and anybody willing to share with me. Organizing’s power stems from an unshakable belief that our lived experiences provide the best raw material for policy and social changes that truly meet our needs and dignify us. Your insights about your community or school, and experiences accessing reproductive care, will guide the work we do together.
  • Share. My hope is to foster a grassroots network of volunteers across Maine who want to get trained up to lead and grow local efforts to advance reproductive health, rights & justice in their towns. This means hanging out with me a fair amount at first, so I can share all the stuff I know about organizing, community work, and all the important things MFP does. Developing leadership in others is the best thing I can do; basically, a good organizer makes more organizers!
  • Turn strangers into neighbors. I love Maine and its people with all my heart, and I know how much the majority of us care about our neighbors. We’re the kind of folks who are a funny mix of proud and humble, and we show up for each other, even if we do it quietly. As an organizer, I go out into the world with a goal to help folks expand our sense of who counts as a neighbor. I want to engage new people every day in honest conversations and creative actions until we truly embrace the notion that every person in this state is our neighbor. We need to look out for each other and defend everyone’s right to lead lives of health, autonomy, and dignity.

I’m so grateful to be on board with all the dedicated clinic workers and practitioners, administrators, advocates, and educators at Maine Family Planning. I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish when y’all out there join us! Contact me at cvaughan @ mainefamilypanning.org or 207-480-3518 to get started.

In like a lion…

Spring has sprung here at Maine Family Planning and with that, the annual 40 Days for Life anti-choice demonstration outside of our gates.  For 40 days, staff, visitors, and clients must drive through a gauntlet of ugly protesters outside.

I am new here in my third month at this organization.  I have learned about the wonderful work we do – operating 18 health sites across Maine’s rural landscape, serving over 21,000 patients per year for all of their various needs from birth control to STD tests to Pap smears to early detection services.  I have also met the many women and men who work diligently to help these patients and the broader community.

Each week during non-Lenten time, I have been faced with protesters outside our gate and I am driven to think about the women coming in for the exact services they are protesting.  I wonder about the thoughts that these women must have coming into their visits – relief, fear, grief, pain – in addition to the stigma they feel.

At Maine Family Planning, we collect “share your truth” cards from our patients and one struck me: “People think you are heartless because you have an abortion, but it is the complete opposite.  My heart and my brain made the decision to wait to bring a child into this world.”  She adds that she doesn’t feel like a failure because, “a house, a husband, who will father my child.  Without those things I would feel like a failure of a parent.”

Another patient writes, “Your office was helpful in the most meaningful of ways, although hard emotionally and physically, I am glad I made this decision.  It saved my family; now we can focus on us again.”

From the strength of these women, I find the strength to face 40 Days for Life because honestly, that is exactly what we are providing.  A life for Maine women and families, and for that I am so proud.

~Victoria
Director of Marketing and Communications, Maine Family Planning

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