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ACLU, Planned Parenthood challenge Ariz. law targeting funding for abortion providers

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday filed a lawsuit against an Arizona law (HB 2599) that targets Medicaid funding for abortion providers, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Christie, AP/Sacramento Bee, 7/14).

Law details

The law, sponsored by state Rep. Justin Olson (R), disqualifies any provider that violates one of several laws from participating in the state's Medicaid program. The measure specifically notes that it will disqualify any provider that does not "segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions." The law's language could necessitate separating out public funding allocated for "everything from doctors to lighting."

State and federal law already bar the use of public funds for most abortion care (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/18).

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood of Arizona (PPA), has said the organization does not use public funds or Medicaid family planning funding to cover abortion care when such coverage is prohibited under federal law. While the law does not specifically name Planned Parenthood, Howard said it "is indeed intended to prevent Planned Parenthood [from] continuing to provide preventative services to low-income women in the state" (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/7).

The law is scheduled to take effect Aug. 6.

Lawsuit details

ACLU filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Arizona (Pitzl, Arizona Republic, 7/14). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of PPA and Desert Star Family Planning (Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).

In the lawsuit, the abortion providers contend that the law violates their right to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment by targeting Planned Parenthood and imposing unclear guidance (Arizona Republic, 7/14). For example, the plaintiffs said the law does not specify what it means to "segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions, including the use of taxpayer dollars for any overhead expenses attributable to abortions" (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).

The providers also contend that the law violates patients' right to select a Medicaid provider of their choice (Arizona Republic, 7/14).

According to the plaintiffs, the law permits the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to temporarily or permanently end clinics' Medicaid participation with only 24 hours' notice. The lawsuit stated, "Unless enjoined, this impermissible requirement threatens to exclude the provider plaintiffs from the Medicaid program, thereby restricting their ability to provide -- and their patients' ... ability to access -- vital women's health services."

ACLU attorney Jennifer Lee said she is asking U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver to stop the law from taking effect Aug. 6. No hearing has yet been scheduled (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).

Comments

Jodi Liggett, vice president of communications for PPA, said the law is the latest effort to shutter Planned Parenthood. "They are targeting us because we are an abortion provider," she said, noting that the state has not imposed similar requirements on any other entity receiving Medicaid funds (Arizona Republic, 7/14).

Separately, Alessandra Soler, executive director of ACLU of Arizona, said, "There is an eerie déjà vu to this law ... The state is trying again, this time with a more complicated version of the previous law, to use taxpayer dollars to play politics with medicine" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 7/14).

Lee compared the HB 2599 with an overturned state law (HB 2800) that similarly targeted Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding. "This law has the same effect [as HB 2800] in that it imposes a requirement that will cause abortion providers to be excluded from the Medicaid program at the discretion of AHCCCS," she said, adding, "The intent of the law is the same" (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).