Scrambling to find votes for her Medicaid expansion plan, Gov. Jan Brewer said Thursday she is now willing to approve legislation to stop Planned Parenthood from getting any of the funds.
The sharp reversal comes just two weeks after Brewer insisted she would not let the controversial question of abortion sidetrack her bid to add 300,000 people to the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. Even Thursday, Brewer said it is an issue "that I didn't think was valid.''
But that was before anti-abortion groups started undermining the already shaky support Brewer has from Republicans, saying the governor's plan allows indirect funding of abortions.
The efforts championed by the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy had the intended effects. Some GOP legislators who had been on the fence defected, leaving Brewer short of the votes she needs.
So now the governor is willing to deal.
"If you have legislators that have concerns, then it's our responsibility to solve it,'' Brewer said.
Less clear is whether there is a legal way for Brewer to resolve those concerns: A federal court ruled last year voided a similar provision also pushed by CAP.
Potentially more serious, with GOP support for Medicaid expansion weak, Brewer is counting on Democrat backing. But House Minority Leader Chad Campbell warned that any effort "to appease the Center for Arizona Policy and their right wing allies'' could lose Brewer the Democrat votes she needs.
Planned Parenthood already provides family planning services to Medicaid recipients.
Federal and state law prohibit the use of public funds for most abortions. But last year, Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, pushed through a measure to deny Medicaid funds to any organization that also provides abortions.
CAP President Cathi Herrod said such a restriction is appropriate.
"The concern is that abortion providers also provide family planning services,'' she said. "As we've always said, one dollar for family planning services to an abortion provider frees up another dollar for abortions and subsidizes their abortion services.''
U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake last year voided the Olson amendment, ruling that federal law says those enrolled in Medicaid are entitled to get services from any qualified medical provider.
Wake said there was no evidence that Planned Parenthood is not qualified to offer family planning services. And he said there was no evidence Medicaid funds were being siphoned off to fund abortions.
That case is now on appeal.
Brewer slammed the door -- seemingly -- on revisiting the issue in the Medicaid expansion bill.
"We went down that route last year,'' she said last month. "We lost. It's probably time that we just move on.
But Herrod has circulated to lawmakers a new proposal she thinks will get around Wake's ruling.
It would spell out that Medicaid funds cannot be used to directly or indirectly subsidize abortion services. And that includes paying administrative expenses including rent, employee salaries and utilities.
Campbell called that unacceptable. He said that language could be used to cut Medicaid funds to hospitals because they perform legal abortions there.
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said Herrod's newest proposal is little different than the one Wake struck down.
"The court was very clear that legislative initiatives to exclude otherwise qualified health care providers from serving patients under Medicaid solely because they provide abortions is against the law,'' he said.
Campbell said CAP is playing an oversize and inappropriate role in the whole Medicaid debate, calling it "a small extremist organization with no accountability to a single taxpayer or voter in this state.''
Brewer said she's not doing the bidding of Herrod and the CAP.
"I'm trying to resolve an issue that was out there,'' she said. Brewer said she wants to satisfy reluctant lawmakers "so we can get Medicaid out there and accessible to the people that are in great need of it.''
Herrod rejected any suggestion the governor is bending to the will of CAP.
"Obviously, our opponents want to have that type of thinking out there,'' she said. Anyway, Herrod said, it's not like Brewer is going against her own instincts.
"Gov. Brewer continues to be a pro-life champion,'' she said.
That is not a stretch.
In an interview last year, after signing the Olson legislation, Brewer did not hide her animosity toward Planned Parenthood.
"I do not support the goals of Planned Parenthood because I believe in life,'' she said.
"They believe in choice,'' Brewer continued. "So let's just cut right through the fat and tell it like it is.''
And Brewer said as long as the majority of lawmakers feel the way she does about Planned Parenthood, she and they are entitled to impose their views on everyone else in Arizona.
The governor also has made no secret of the fact that, if it were up to her, abortion would be outlawed in Arizona except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
"Life does begin at conception,'' she said in that interview. "It's a baby. A woman knows that from the first time she throw up she's pregnant and having a baby.''