Abortion War

Planned Parenthood Takes Fight Against Arizona Defunding Law to Court

The organization’s lawsuit aims to quash an Arizona law it sees as an assault on women’s reproductive rights—and its bottom line. By Terry Greene Sterling.

Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo

Arizona’s battle to defund Planned Parenthood moved to a Phoenix federal courthouse, where Planned Parenthood Arizona hopes to axe a law inked by Gov. Jan Brewer before it takes effect in early August.

The law had sailed through Arizona’s Tea Party-leaning state house earlier in the year and was widely viewed as an assault on women’s reproductive rights as well as Planned Parenthood’s bottom line. The Arizona statute prohibits Medicaid-eligible women from seeking routine preventive services—such as mammograms and pap smears—from medical providers who also offer abortions.

In late June, Arizona Medicaid officials requested an “attestation” from Planned Parenthood seeking assurances that it would provide abortions only under rare circumstances—a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or one that endangered a woman’s life or health. Without the signed document, Planned Parenthood could not get Medicaid reimbursement for taking care of the routine reproductive needs of poor women. Planned Parenthood went to court instead of signing the “attestation.”

The Arizona law is unconstitutional, and should be iced because it violates a federal health-care statute protecting a woman’s right to choose where she goes for reproductive health services, the organization contends in a complaint filed Monday at U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

“Congress has singled out family planning services for special additional protections to ensure freedom of choice…a Medicaid managed care organization or a similar entity shall not restrict the choice of the qualified person from whom the individual may receive services,” Planned Parenthood’s court papers state.

“Arizona isn’t abiding by federal Medicaid law,” sums up Bryan Howard, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “The governor violated the rule she agreed to follow.”

Planned Parenthood isn’t suing Arizona’s controversial Republican governor. But her spokesman, Matthew Benson, says Brewer is “confident the law is constitutional and will be upheld by the court.”

Instead of singling out Brewer, the lawsuit names Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who declined to comment for this story, and the state Medicaid program director, Tom Betlach. (The Arizona Medicaid program is known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS.) Monica Coury, the AHCCCS spokeswoman, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

In the last year, about 3,000 women on Medicaid visited Planned Parenthood’s 13 Arizona health centers. Although five of these health centers provide abortions to a total of about 800 women a month, only a few, if any, of these women get Medicaid-reimbursed abortions. Medicaid pays for abortions if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or endangers the life of the mother. Still, for other health services to Medicaid patients (such as birth control, mammograms, pap smears and STD treatment and screening), Planned Parenthood was reimbursed about $350,000 by Arizona’s Medicaid program. That’s a small chunk of the money the Arizona group took in this year—$11 million for services and another $2 million in donations.

“Medicaid patients generally have a hard time finding family planning and related reproductive health care services in Arizona,” Planned Parenthood says in court documents. Arizona “reimburses” at “exceptionally low levels” which are 45 percent less than Planned Parenthood’s actual costs of treating the women, the documents say.

The law may prevent many poor women from seeking medical care, since Planned Parenthood clinics often are located in medically underserved parts of the state, the court documents state.

The court papers hint Planned Parenthood is fairly confident it will prevail in court. In its complaint, Planned Parenthood notes that an Arizona-like plan in Indiana was thrown out by Medicaid officials because it violated Medicaid’s “freedom of choice provision.”

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Federal courts have enjoined similar plans in Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, Planned Parenthood said in a statement released after the Arizona lawsuit was filed.

Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit was filed four days after several doctors and advocates for women sued Arizona seeking to quash a different, but contemporaneous state abortion law, also slated to take effect Aug. 2. This earlier lawsuit, filed in the same Phoenix federal court, contends among other things that the different Arizona law violated Roe v. Wade by pushing back the age of a fetus that can be legally aborted.