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Arizona Asks Supreme Court to Review Law Defunding Planned Parenthood

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Attorneys for the state want the Roberts Court to reinstate a law that strips funding from doctors and clinics that perform abortions even though that money does not go toward abortion care.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the State of Arizona asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and reinstate an anti-abortion law that strips Medicaid funding from doctors and clinics that perform abortions, even though that money does not go toward abortion care.

HB 2800, signed into law in May of 2012 by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, would have excluded any doctor who performs abortions from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state’s Medicaid program. Both federal and Arizona law already prohibit spending either state or federal dollars on abortions in most circumstances. The law would have also ended all Medicaid reimbursements for contraceptives, cancer screenings, annual women’s exams, and other services beyond abortion at the Arizona clinics and hospitals that do provide abortion care.

Though the law applies to all reproductive health clinics that provide abortions in the state, the practical effect of the measure is to defund the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics, which provide the majority of these services, seeing about 3,000 Medicaid patients each year.

Shortly after the law was passed, Planned Parenthood sued, arguing it violates the federal Medicaid Act, which guarantees enrollees the freedom to choose their health-care provider. A trial court agreed and permanently blocked enforcement of the law. In August 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

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Arizona is not the only state trying to block Planned Parenthood and related reproductive health-care providers from participating in the Medicaid system. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently blocked a similar Indiana law. Attorneys for the State of Indiana asked the Roberts Court to reverse that decision, but the Supreme Court declined.

Given the similarities between the reasoning and conclusions by the Seventh Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court is not likely to take up Arizona’s request. According to Planned Parenthood, the litigation has already cost the state some $279,000 in legal fees—money that could have gone to providing clinical breast exams or cervical cancer screenings to thousands of AHCCCS patients. The petition to the Supreme Court will increase those fees.

“Thousands of low-income women rely on Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic health care,” said Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, in a statement. “Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to vital services just because she is poor. It should concern citizens that our state is continuing to waste taxpayer dollars litigating this issue.”

This is not the only anti-abortion law from Arizona before the Supreme Court. In September, attorneys for the state petitioned the Roberts Court to take up a challenge to its 20-week abortion ban. The Roberts Court has not yet responded to that request.

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