The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that the state of Arizona cannot strip the abortion provider Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funding.
As previously reported, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, appointed in 2004 by George W. Bush under the recommendation of Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, issued a temporary injunction against a new state law in October of last year while the matter moved forward in the courts.
While Arizona already bars federal funds from being used for abortions, the new law served as a supplemental measure to ensure that no funds would indirectly go to abortion providers. It prohibited Medicaid funds, which cover low-income families, from going to organizations that offer family planning services. There are thirteen Planned Parenthood locations in the state.
“This is a common-sense law that tightens existing state regulations and closes loopholes in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions, whether directly or indirectly,” Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement following the official signing in May 2012. “By signing this measure into law, I stand with the majority of Americans who oppose the use of taxpayer funds for abortion.”
The new law was challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood, and was bound by a court injunction soon afterward.
However, in his ruling, Judge Wake stated that Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be denied funding simply because it performs abortions, and said that the other services the organization offers should qualify Planned Parenthood to receive Medicaid compensation.
“Simply put, a state’s determination of whether a provider is qualified to perform Medicaid services must at least be related to Medicaid services,” he wrote in his order. “The fact that [Planned Parenthood] performs legally protected abortions does not affect their ability to perform family planning services for Medicaid patients.”
The state appealed the case all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on Thursday that Arizona officials are bound by federal law to provide Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood.
“[The free-choice-of-provider provision appears in a list of mandatory requirements that apply to all state Medicaid plans,” the court outlined. “For all these reasons, the free-choice-of-provider provision 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 ruling also asserted that the state has not shown that Planned Parenthood is “unqualified” to provide other services outside of abortions and therefore receive Medicaid reimbursement.
“HB 2800’s purpose is to exclude concededly qualified medical providers from eligibility for public funds unless they decline to perform elective abortions. Arizona has never claimed that Planned Parenthood’s staff doctors are unqualified to perform gynecological exams or STD testing,” it said. “Quite the opposite; the HB 2800 implementation letter made clear that if Planned
Parenthood agreed to stop performing privately funded, elective abortions, it could continue providing all of its other services at public expense.”
However, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented the state in court, says that the justices failed to consider the wishes of Arizona residents in making its decision.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed with the decision,” attorney Steven Aden told reporters. “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.”
ADF is now considering its options in light of the ruling.
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