Gov. Jan Brewer continued her anti-abortion efforts late Friday, signing controversial -- and potentially illegal -- legislation to deny any of the federal family planning funding Arizona gets from going to Planned Parenthood.
HB 2800 spells out an order for dividing up any public funds for family planning. Top priority goes to government-run health care facilities, followed by hospitals, rural health clinics and private doctors.
More to the point, it bars funding from going to anyone that performs abortions or operates a facility where abortions are performed.
And that, acknowledged Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, sponsor of the legislation, is specifically aimed at Planned Parenthood.
The governor's action comes even as a federal judge has barred Texas from using a similar regulation to defund Planned Parenthood in that state. But Matthew Benson said his boss is unconcerned.
"The governor is confident of the constitutionality of this law and believes it will be upheld,'' he said.
Olson acknowledged the actions of federal courts in Texas. But he said that is a "unique situation'' and the Arizona law is sufficiently different.
Still, he anticipates a lawsuit.
"Those who are intent on taking the life of the most innocent among us will try to strike this down in the courts,'' Olson said. But he said if other states enact similar laws, that will show "strong support'' for withholding taxpayer dollars from organizations that provide abortion.
Similar lawsuits already have been filed in Kansas and Indiana.
A lawsuit could just be part of the problem. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in March it was pulling its funding for family planning services from Texas because of the bid to exclude Planned Parenthood.
"What you're pointing out is the very frightful fact that what we have in the White House right now is the most anti-life president that has occupied the White House,'' Olson said. He called any effort to block funding "reprehensible.''
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, blasted the move.
"This bill shows lawmakers and Gov. Brewer are more interested in restricting health care access than representing Arizonans,'' he said. Howard said polling shows 78 percent of Arizonans favor state-funded family planning services for low-income women, including sex education and counseling services, women?s health services and birth control.
Michelle Steinberg, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said she did not know how much money is involved.
But Steinberg said her organization currently provided family planning services to about 29,000 women. About 25,000 of those are through federal funds, with the balance being served through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program.
Arizona law already forbids the use of public money for abortions. Olson said HB 2800 closes a loophole.
"The reason we're doing this is to make sure that taxpayers, without their consent, are forced to finance abortions indirectly,'' he said. Olson said that if Planned Parenthood gets money for its family planning services it "frees up more dollars that can be spent on abortion.''
Olson said there is a way for Planned Parenthood to keep getting these family planning dollars.
"Planned Parenthood can create two separate entities,'' he said, one that does family planning and one that does abortions.
"As long as they're entirely separate entities, then that is in compliance with this new law,'' Olson said. "That would create a permanent, solid firewall between the taxpayers' dollars and the abortions that many taxpayers find reprehensible.''
Brewer is on record as wanting to outlaw all abortions except to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest.
"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,'' the governor said in a prepared statement. "By signing this measure into law, I stand with the majority of Americans who oppose the use of taxpayer funds for abortion.''
This session, the governor already signed legislation giving Arizona at least the toughest abortion restrictions in the country, banning the procedure once a fetus has developed for 20 weeks. That is based on arguments a fetus that far along is capable of experiencing pain.
But the wording of the new law, which measures fetal age from a woman's last menstrual cycle, actually could bar abortions effectively at 18 weeks of gestation.
Last year she penned her approval to a requirement for women to have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor 24 hours before a pregnancy can be terminated. And she also signed legislation limiting what kind of abortions can be performed by nurse practitioners.