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Maine Family Planning Files Lawsuit To Block Changes To Title X

Patty Wight
Maine Public

Maine Family Planning has filed a lawsuit to block what opponents call the Trump Administration's 'domestic gag rule' on abortion.

It's the latest legal challenge to the final rule released last month that places restrictions on providers who receive federal Title X funds, which cover family planning services for low income patients.

Maine Family Planning is the sole grantee of Title X funds in Maine, and it distributes about $2 million per year to dozens of clinics, including 18 of its own. But president George Hill says the nonprofit will be forced to end abortion services at nearly all of its clinics if the final Trump Administration rule goes into effect.

"In order to comply with the rule's requirements, Maine Family Planning would have no choice but to eliminate abortion services at 17 of our 18 locations, leaving just three publicly accessible abortion providers throughout Maine," he says.

That's because the final rule requires providers who receive Title X funds to create a physical separation between reproductive health care and abortion services. Hill says that's not feasible.

The final rule also eliminates the current requirement that providers include information about abortions among the range of options available to pregnant women.

"This now makes it possible for a provider, say a crisis pregnancy center, to only offer prenatal care and adoption, and remain silent on the option of abortion," he says.

Providers would also be prohibited from making referrals for abortion, even if a patient asks. Instead, providers would be required to provide referrals for prenatal care to all pregnant patients.

Maine Family Planning's Evelyn Kieltyka, who oversees clinical operations at Maine's Title X clinics, says the changes would impinge on the role of providers as trusted sources of information.

"It puts our patients and our providers in an untenable position. And it's unacceptable," Kieltyka says.

That's why Maine Family Planning wants to block the rule from going into effect. A federal suit was filed Wednesday on its behalf by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global advocacy organization.

The Center's Julie Rikelman says the new rule violates the Fifth Amendment "by causing undue burden to women's constitutional right to access abortion, and violate the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech by preventing medical professional from speaking openly and honestly about abortion, while at the same time compelling them to give their patients information they do not want."

Several states, as well as the American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood, have also filed lawsuits attempting to block the final Title X rules from going into effect on May 3.

But pro-life organizations such as National Right to Life applaud the new rule for strengthening the current prohibitions on using federal money for abortions, by ensuring funds won't indirectly support abortion services. A call to Maine Right to Life was not returned.

Updated 5:15 p.m. March 6, 2019.