Arizona Won’t Stop Trying To Defund Planned Parenthood

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Arizona is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate a state law that would bar Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding. Even though that law has already been blocked from taking effect by several lower courts, attorneys for the state aren’t yet ready to give up on their crusade against the national women’s health organization.

Last year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) approved HB 2800, a measure to block organizations that perform abortions from participating in the state’s pool of Medicaid-eligible providers. As the Arizona Republic reports, that would have halted Medicaid reimbursements for birth control, cancer screenings, STD treatment, and annual well women’s exams at more than 80 Arizona hospitals and clinics — simply because those health providers also offer abortions. Planned Parenthood has been serving Medicaid patients in Arizona since 1991, and forcing the organization out of the program would impact an estimated 3,000 low-income women who visit Planned Parenthood clinics each year.

This has become a popular tactic to target Planned Parenthood, which is a large Medicaid provider in many states. But it hasn’t been a very successful one. States aren’t allowed to discriminate against qualified Medicaid providers based on whether they perform abortions, so multiple courts have blocked these laws from taking effect. Arizona is no exception. In August, a federal appeals court struck down HB 2800.

Arizona is hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case and reverse that decision, allowing HB 2800 to take effect. “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the work of abortionists. Arizona should be free to enforce its public policy against the taxpayer funding of abortion and in favor of the best health care for women,” a counsel for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom, which is working with the state to defend HB 2800, said in a statement.

But Planned Parenthood officials point out that Arizona law already prohibits Medicaid dollars from covering abortion, and this political battle actually impacts disadvantaged women’s access to other essential health services.

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

Indeed, Arizona’s case doesn’t look very strong. The Supreme Court tends to weigh into issues like this when there have been conflicting opinions issued by lower courts, but the federal courts have been pretty firmly in agreement that states can’t defund Planned Parenthood in this way. And earlier this year, Iowa asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a similar law that had been overturned there, too — and the justices declined.