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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Federal Judge Nixes Arizona Abortion Law

PHOENIX (CN) - A federal judge overturned an Arizona law that bans abortion providers from participating in the state's Medicaid program.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake ruled that House Bill 2800 "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."

Planned Parenthood sued Arizona in July 2012 after passage of HB 2800, which allowed the state to "not enter into a contract with or make a grant to any person that performs nonfederally qualified abortions or maintains or operates a facility where nonfederally qualified abortions are performed for the provision of family planning services."

Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law in May 2012, but Judge Wake put it on hold in October after Planned Parenthood's lawsuit.

Arizona's "use of the term 'qualified' in the freedom of choice provision creates such ambiguity in the provision that it would be difficult for courts to enforce the requirement," Wake wrote in his latest ruling, published Friday.

The state's "strained interpretation of the word 'qualified' ... contradicts the plain meaning of the phrase '[providers that are] qualified to perform the service or services required,' which describes qualified providers as those providers that are competent to provide the needed services," the ruling states. (Brackets in ruling.)

HB 2800, aka the "Whole Woman's Health Funding Priority Act," prioritizes allocation of public money to "health care facilities that are owned or operated by this state or any political subdivision of this state," to hospitals and "federally qualified health centers," rural health clinics, and primary health care providers.

Wake found that the Medicaid Act, "canons of statutory construction, and the relevant legislative history all compel the conclusion that Arizona lacks that authority" to "limit the range of qualified Medicaid providers for reasons unrelated to a provider's ability to deliver Medicaid services without violating a beneficiary's right to have free choice of qualified providers."

Abortion opponents, not surprisingly, denounced the ruling.

Wake's ruling "thwarts the will of Arizona taxpayers to stop funding big abortion businesses such as Planned Parenthood," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement. "The SBA List will not rest until the freedom of states to put whole women's health first is once again recognized and protected."

Dannenfelser's organization promotes women who oppose abortion for political office.

Judge Wake noted that the number of Medicaid beneficiaries "a provider serves, or the quantity of Medicaid services for which a provider is responsible, is similarly irrelevant." He found that the law would "disqualify otherwise qualified providers from participation in the state's Medicaid program for impermissible reasons and thereby limit the choice of qualified providers for Medicaid beneficiaries."

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