Abortion Providers Beat Arizona's Maneuvering
(CN) - An Arizona law meant to pull all state funding from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers violates the federal Medicaid Act, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
Passed by the conservative Arizona Legislature in 2012, House Bill 2800 sought to prohibit the state's Medicaid recipients from receiving family planning, gynecological exams, cancer screening and other services from providers that also perform abortions in cases other than rape, incest or medical emergency.
After the bill became law, Planned Parenthood of Arizona and other providers that have agreements with Arizona's Medicaid program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), received letters from the state warning that they would be dropped from the system if they refused to stop performing abortions.
Planned Parenthood of Arizona, which says that it receives about $350,000 annually from AHCCCS, filed a federal complaint to stop the law from going into effect.
It was joined as a plaintiff by three patients and a doctor.
Finding that the challengers would likely succeed on their claim that the measure violated the Medicaid Act's free-choice-of-provider requirement, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake blocked the law temporarily. He then struck it down outright, granting the challengers summary judgment in February.
Arizona appealed to the 9th Circuit, first after Wake blocked the law and again after he struck it. The federal appeals court consolidated the appeals and unanimously affirmed on Thursday.
The three-judge panel found that free-choice-of-provider requirement "unambiguously requires that states participating in the Medicaid program allow covered patients to choose among the family planning medical practitioners they could use were they paying out of their own pockets."
"The Arizona law violates this requirement by precluding Medicaid patients from using medical providers concededly qualified to perform family planning services to patients in Arizona generally, solely on the basis that those providers separately perform privately funded, legal abortions," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the San Francisco-based court.
Steven Aden, with the Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, argued the case for Arizona.
"Obviously, we're disappointed with the decision," he said in an email Thursday. "We respectfully believe the court failed to give proper regard to the state of Arizona's right and duty to spend its Medicaid dollars in a way that respects the deeply held pro-life beliefs of the majority of Arizonians. We are evaluating appropriate next steps."
Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO Bryan Howard noted that its centers will remain open tomorrow, as they have for nearly 80 years, treating thousands of women in low-income communities.
"Politics should never interfere with a woman's access to vital services just because she is poor," Howard said in a statement. "Several courts had already spoken on this issue; we were confident the appeals court would rule in favor of our patients.
Last year the 7th Circuit reached a similar decision against a law in Indiana.
Arizona had argued, among other things, that its law did not violate the free-choice-of-provider provision because Planned Parenthood could always create a spin-off entity to provide abortions "and thereby remain eligible to provide Medicaid family planning services."
The judges were not convinced.
"Even assuming Arizona's separate entity interpretation of HB 2800 is viable - which is far from clear to us - the separate entity argument is irrelevant," Berzon wrote. "The Medicaid Act's free-choice-of-provider requirement does not include an exception allowing states to violate it so long as providers can spin off affiliates."