Health

Anti-Abortion Group’s Effort To Defund Family Planning Clinics Backfires Spectacularly

CREDIT: Courtesy of Maine Family Planning

Signs of support to counter the right-wing picketers outside the family planning clinic

This week, a network of family planning clinics in Maine raised thousands of dollars to help fund its abortion services, thanks to an assist from a particularly unlikely source: A major anti-choice group in the state.

The outcome certainly isn’t what the Christian Civic League of Maine (CCL) was hoping for. Just a few days ago, the right-wing group sent out an email blast to its supporters proclaiming that its prayers had successfully defunded abortion in Maine. CCL leaders said that God was acting on abortion opponents’ prayers because Maine Family Planning, an organization comprised of 18 reproductive health clinics across the state, didn’t meet its annual fundraising goal.

Every year, as CCL spends the period leading up to Easter picketing outside of women’s health clinics — an effort popularized by anti-abortion groups that’s known as “40 Days for Life” — Maine Family Planning runs a parallel campaign soliciting donations for its work. Donors are encouraged to send in messages of support to help counter the graphic anti-abortion images displayed on CCL activists’ signs during the 40 Days for Life protests, which plague Maine’s clinics daily during Lent.

That fundraising drive usually raises about $10,000 for the clinics; but this Lenten season, the family planning organization only raised a little more than $5,000. CCL credited the discrepancy to divine intervention.

That move caught the attention of a few prominent bloggers, who decided to change the conversation. Mike Tipping, who writes for the Bangor Daily News, encouraged his readers to donate to Maine Family Planning to prove CCL wrong about God’s attitude toward reproductive health services. Popular sex columnist and LGBT activist Dan Savage followed suit, telling his followers to “make the haters at Maine’s Christian Civic League regret sending out that email blast by donating to Maine Family Planning and pushing them past last year’s fundraising total.”

It worked. According to Jennifer Thibodeau, the director of communications and marketing at Maine Family Planning, the group has raised nearly $7,000 in the past three days alone — pushing this year’s total funds past $12,000. Contributions have poured in from 169 new donors across 14 states.

Since Maine Family Planning receives federal Title X funds to finance its preventative health services, those private donations are necessary to support other programs that are cut off from federal dollars, like abortion services and transgender health care.

Thibodeau told ThinkProgress that, since Tipping’s and Savage’s blog posts were published, the organization has received a lot of positive notes from religious people expressing their support for the work of Maine Family Planning. “Thank you for the work you do and please pay no attention to the ‘Maine Christian Civic League.’ They know very little about God,” one message read.

“The sentiment that people aren’t interested in anti-women rhetoric and discrimination in the name of religion — that definitely came across here,” Thibodeau said. “We’re getting the message that people of faith do support women’s right to make choices, and trust women to make the decisions that are good for themselves and their families.”

Despite the fact that the conservative opposition to abortion and birth control is typically framed in terms of religion, there are plenty of religious Americans who do support reproductive health services, family planning, and abortion. In fact, in the years before Roe v. Wade, faith leaders were some of the fiercest advocates of legalizing abortion in order to prevent women from dying due to unsafe procedures. Last year, several progressive clergy members launched a new campaign specifically to push back on the Religious Right on issues of reproductive rights.

Thibodeau acknowledged that her group’s annual fundraiser is a relatively small campaign for an organization that operates 18 clinics. But she said her staff is really happy to see so much support for their patients from across the country.

“It is a feel-good story,” she said. “We’re all feeling really encouraged by this.”