Category Archives: Women’s Health

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.

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

Click here for more information on Pledge-A-Picketer and how you can support Maine Family Planning patients and staff.

Join Us Tomorrow and #BeBold!

bebold-logoNo one should have their decision about abortion, pregnancy, and family made for them because they can’t afford medical care. Despite the fact that the Constitution is meant to protect everyone, politicians have used the Hyde Amendment to deny abortion coverage for those struggling to get by for 40 years.

This week is United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action – the week we come together to demand that politicians stop excluding the most vulnerable—including low-income people, women of color, young people, immigrants, transgender and gender non-conforming people—from abortion coverage.

On Friday, September 30, join us and put your best face forward for abortion rights in our Be Bold Photo booth in Portland and Bangor!

Be Bold Photo booth

Friday, Sept. 30

11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Portland: Monument Square

Bangor: West Market Square

Can’t join us in person in Portland or Bangor? No problem. Join us virtually from wherever you are: simply upload your selfie to social media using the hashtags #BeBoldEndHyde and #BeBoldME.

You can also add a lime green #BeBoldEndHyde filter to your profile picture on Facebook or Twitter to show your support.

It’s been 40 years since Rep. Henry Hyde introduced an amendment to increase barriers to accessing abortion care. That’s 40 years politicians have been interfering with women’s ability to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their families.

It’s time to get rid of the Hyde Amendment. On Friday, join thousands of people around the country who are united for abortion access. Share your photo and tell politicians: Be Bold, End Hyde.

See you there!

B.Y.O.R. (Be Your Own Receptionist)!

Things I do from my phone:

  • Keep in touch with friends and family
  • Listen to podcasts (and Beyoncé)
  • Check my bank account balance
  • Look up driving directions
  • …Basically everything important

And now:

  • Schedule appointments with Maine Family Planning (!!!)

We’re excited to announce that online scheduling is now available at MaineFamilyPlanning.org.

While current patients have been able to schedule online (using the Patient Portal) for a few years, new patients have always had to call us or come to a clinic to make an appointment. Now, anyone can make an appointment online, day or night.

Why schedule online?

Privacy

Need to make an appointment but don’t want people around you to overhear your concerns? We know it can be tough to find time and privacy to call us during business hours, and while nothing freaks us out, chances are you may not want your coworkers, family, or strangers in the coffee shop to know about your birth control method or that you think you might have a UTI.

Convenience

You can schedule your visit using a computer, smartphone, or tablet whenever and wherever works best for you. Waiting in line at the grocery store and just remembered you need your next Depo shot? Only have a couple minutes during your lunch break to schedule an STD test? Did you put off calling about your annual exam until after our offices close? No worries—our website is always open.

Peace of Mind

We know what it’s like to feel anxious about something going on with our bodies. We also know the relief that comes with knowing you’ve scheduled time to figure things out with a healthcare provider. With online scheduling available 24/7, you don’t have to lose sleep worrying about when you’ll be able to get a pregnancy test or see a Nurse Practitioner about that weird bump you just found.

How it works:  Continue reading

Preventing HIV with PrEP

medication chalkboardStarting this month, Maine Family Planning will be offering consultations and prescriptions for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis – commonly called PrEP – a daily pill that significantly reduces the risk of HIV infection (HIV is the virus that causes AIDS). You can talk to a Nurse Practitioner at any of our 18 clinics about your HIV status, your individual risk, and whether PrEP is a good option for you.

Want to know more? We’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions below. If PrEP sounds like something that might be right for you, give us a call to set up a visit.

What is PrEP?

PrEP (brand name Truveda) is an antiretroviral medication that can be taken by an HIV negative person before potential HIV exposure to reduce risk of HIV infection. When taken consistently and correctly, PrEP is over 90% effective at preventing HIV transmission through sex, and over 70% effective at preventing HIV transmission through IV drug injection.

How does it work?   Continue reading