Arizona cannot cut off family planning funding to Planned Parenthood simply because the organization also provides abortions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Without comment the justices rejected a bid by attorneys for the state and a privately financed anti-abortion group to overturn lower court rulings to the contrary. Today's decision ends the battle.
The decision drew fire from Steven Aden of the Alliance Defending Freedom, saying the ruling essentially amounts to taxpayers “forced to subsidize the work of abortionists.”
But Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, whose funding was at issue, called the ruling “a victory for Arizona women and their families.” Howard said the legislation amounted to political interference with health care choices by women.
Both Arizona and federal laws already bar the use of public funds for abortions that are not medically necessary. But the state, as part of its participation in the federal Medicaid program, provides family planning services for needy women. The federal government pays 90 percent, with the state covering the balance.
Medicaid statutes and regulations also permit eligible women to choose from any qualified provider, which has included Planned Parenthood.
In 2012, however, state legislators amended the law to say any organization that also provides abortions cannot be a “qualified provider.” Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, who sponsored the legislation, said any money the government gives Planned Parenthood to pay for other expenses frees up funds for abortions.
Planned Parenthood then filed suit.
The arguments by abortion foes did not wash with lower courts.
Judge Marsha Berzon, writing for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, pointed out that the law says those enrolled in Medicaid, which includes the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, to get the services they need from any qualified provider. And Berzon said there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood medical staffers are not “qualified.”
In seeking Supreme Court review, Attorney General Tom Horne said states have a constitutional right to decide for themselves who is “qualified” to provide family planning services. He said that is not limited to the medical ability of staffers.
Horne also said that the 2012 law “reflects a public policy preference for childbirth over abortion and gives effect to Arizona's justifiably strong interest in recognizing the inherent difference of abortion from other medical procedures.”
He would not comment on Monday's ruling.
This is the second defeat the nation's high court handed the state since convening this session in October on the issue of abortion.
The justices previously rebuffed a bid by the state to ban abortions at the 20th week. That leaves in place existing statutes and case law which says that states cannot forbid a woman from terminating her pregnancy prior to the point a fetus is viable outside the womb, generally considered between 22 and 24 weeks.
In that case, proponents asked the court to consider what they said was new evidence that a fetus could feel pain at 20 weeks. They also argued the procedure beyond 20 weeks is riskier to the life of the mother.