Arizona Seeks to Revive Medicaid Funds Ban for Abortion

Lawyers for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer asked a federal appeals court to uphold a state law barring health care providers who perform abortions from receiving Medicaid funds.

A lower-court judge struck down the law this year, saying it excluded otherwise qualified physicians from participation in the state’s Medicaid program. Federal Medicaid rules say states must allow patients eligible for assistance to use any doctor “qualified” to perform the services the patient needs, without defining “qualified.”

Arizona has defined qualified as excluding health providers who perform abortions, Steven Aden, an attorney for Washington-based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion legal ministry, said at a hearing today before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“The only serious question is, is the law” stating a reasonable qualification? said Aden, who was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General by the state to represent it in the case. The state, which has a long-standing policy against subsidizing elective abortion, “maintains that it is,” he said.

The Arizona law prohibits Medicaid funding for health-care providers who perform abortions except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or threatens the health or life of the mother. The measure, which had been scheduled to take effect in August, was challenged by Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Permanently Blocked

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake in Phoenix issued an order in February permanently blocking the law from taking effect. He ruled that states have discretion to set reasonable qualification standards related to a providers’ ability to perform the services required.

Two of the three judges hearing the case today questioned whether Arizona could make up its own definition of qualified.

“It’s not in the statute, what you’re excluding them for,” U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon said.

“Your definition is, it’s anything that the state darn well pleases,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jay Bybee said.

Disqualifying abortion providers “is reasonable,” Aden responded. “It’s very reasonable.”

The panel didn’t say when it would rule.

The case is Planned Parenthood Arizona Inc. v. Betlach, 12-17558, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

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