It may seem difficult at times, and perhaps even daunting to independently navigate the healthcare system, especially for those who seek gender-affirming or abortion care.
If someone in the Orono area simply searched “abortion care near me” on Google, they would notice that the first option to appear on the results page is a First Step Pregnancy Resource Center. Since this is the first result of many, it might automatically appear to be a favorable option, yet looks can be deceiving. Aspen Ruhlin, the Community Engagement Coordinator of the Mabel Wadsworth Center located in Bangor, Maine, just under eight miles from the University of Maine campus, advises those seeking abortion care, prenatal care, gender-affirming care and other health-related services to be wary of centers like First Step.
Unlike other healthcare centers listed, First Step actually pays for its advertisements to appear on the results screen first, which is not necessarily an indicator that it’s a bad choice for a person’s specific needs, but there is more to the story.
“These crisis centers not only do not provide abortion care, they are not HIPAA regulated, which means that any of your private medical info[rmation] that you tell them they can share with whomever they please. Because they are not a real health center, though they present themselves as such, they are not required to provide medically accurate information,” Ruhlin said.
Students and other members of the Orono community might have previous experience with First Step. However, there is another name they may wish to get familiar with as a place to turn to when seeking safe, nonjudgmental care.
“[We] provide health care using a feminist model focused on sexual and reproductive health through education, advocacy, and clinical services,” the Mabel Wadsworth Center’s mission statement says.
The center is an independent abortion clinic, meaning it does not receive state funding of any kind, thus avoiding any governmental control over its services. The majority of abortion care in the United States is performed by independent clinics like the Mabel Wadsworth Center who often communicate and work together through the Abortion Care Network (ACN).
Ruhlin, a 2015 graduate of the University of Maine, is an accomplished advocate for LGBTQIA+ health and abortion care. They recognize the importance of educating the community on meaningful abortion access, along with safe access to prenatal care, gender-affirming hormone therapy, contraception, STI testing and primary care, which are all available services at the Mabel Wadsworth Center.
In their presentation on the center’s missions and values, Ruhlin talked a lot about gender-affirming care. Ruhlin says that gender-affirming care should be a part of all healthcare. Transgender people, nonbinary people and cisgender people all have abortions, continue pregnancies, give birth and parent their children.
The state of Maine enacted the Maine Human Rights Act in 2019, which guarantees legal protection against discrimination for all kinds of people, including those who are trans, LGBTQIA+ or pregnant, to name a few examples, which may help to ease these concerns for locals.
A key takeaway from Ruhlin’s presentation is that it is beneficial for all to not avoid talking about controversial healthcare topics like abortion in an honest way. If these subjects are avoided, the general public remains insufficiently educated on the options they have available when requiring non-judgmental, inclusive care.
For more information on the Mabel Wadsworth Center and its offered services, including volunteer opportunities, please visit https://www.mabelwadsworth.org or call (207)947-5337.