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Federal Court Overturns Arizona Planned Parenthood Funding Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake gave women's health advocates a significant victory in the fight over family planning funding, overturning a 2012 Arizona law that targets Planned Parenthood.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake gave women’s health advocates a significant victory in the fight over family planning funding, overturning a 2012 Arizona law that targets Planned Parenthood and holding that the law’s ban on Medicaid funding for non-abortion health care provided by doctors and clinics that also perform abortions violates federal Medicaid law.

The district court had already temporarily barred enforcement of the law in October, and this decision relies on much the same reasoning. At issue in the case is whether abortion providers would be barred from receiving public money for non-abortion services such as cervical exams. In granting plaintiffs’ motion for a pretrial verdict in their favor, Judge Wake made it clear Arizona could not play politics with health care dollars in the name of abortion politics. “The Arizona act violates the freedom of choice provision of the Medicaid Act precisely because every Medicaid beneficiary has the right to select any qualified health care provider,” Wake wrote.

Anti-choice activists insist the law would ensure no public money subsidizes abortion, and attorneys representing the state argued the law gave states leeway to decide qualifications for health care providers. Wake called Arizona’s read of the federal Medicaid statute “strained” because that law also says that states cannot discriminate against an otherwise qualified provider because is offers a legal medical service. “A state may not restrict a beneficiary’s right to select any qualified provider for reasons wholly unrelated to the provider’s ability to deliver Medicaid services,” Wake held. Further, Wake noted, the court’s reasoning in blocking the Arizona law originally in October is nearly identical to the reasoning the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently used in ruling that a nearly identical Indiana law also violated the federal Medicaid law.

Attorneys for the state could appeal the decision, but for now the law is overturned and low-income women in Arizona face one less threat to accessing comprehensive health care in their state.

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