Supreme Court Turns Away Arizona Planned Parenthood Funding Ban

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Supreme Court Turns Away Arizona Planned Parenthood Funding Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

For the second time, the Roberts Court has let stand an appeals court decision permanently blocking state attempts to strip Planned Parenthood clinics of Medicaid funding.

On Monday, the Supreme Court again turned back efforts to strip Planned Parenthood clinics of Medicaid funding, this time rejecting a request by attorneys for the State of Arizona to overturn a federal appeals court ruling blocking its attempts to disqualify the women’s health-care provider from state Medicaid funds.

HB 2800, passed in 2012, would have excluded physicians who provide safe, legal abortion from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state’s Medicaid system. In February 2013, a federal district court found that the law violated the federal Medicaid Act, which protects patients’ rights to make their own decisions about health-care providers and permanently blocked the law from taking effect. Last August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed that decision.

“This ruling is a victory for Arizona women and their families,” said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, in a statement. “The men and women of this state have the right to see the health care provider they deem is best for them. Thousands of low-income women rely on Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic health care. Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to vital services.”

In defending the law, attorneys for the state had argued that the term “qualified” in the Medicaid statute was “too vague for the court to enforce” and therefore the state was free to come up with its own definition of qualified, including one that would block any provider offering access to or referrals for abortion care from receiving state funds. This argument, the Ninth Circuit held, would have effectively gutted the “provider-choice” provision of the Medicaid Act, the portion of the law that allows Medicaid recipients to chose which providers they want to see.

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“Let this be a lesson to politicians across the country: These dangerous and unconstitutional laws won’t be tolerated by the courts or the voters,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “Over and over again, courts have clearly said that states can’t block people from getting preventive health care at Planned Parenthood.”

According to Planned Parenthood, prior to the State of Arizona asking the Supreme Court to intervene, the litigation over the funding ban already cost the state approximately $279,000 in legal fees alone, which is what it would cost for Arizona to provide clinical breast exams or cervical cancer screenings to thousands of AHCCCS patients. Those costs would have increased had the Roberts Court taken the case.

Monday’s decision marks the second time the Supreme Court has refused to overturn such lower court decisions. Last year, the Roberts Court declined a request to review a similar decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals permanently blocking Indiana’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Federal courts have also blocked similar state efforts in Kansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.