A federal judge has permanently blocked Arizona from cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood solely because the organization also performs abortions.
In an 11-page ruling, Judge Neil Wake said legislation approved last year violates federal laws which say that those enrolled in the Medicaid program are entitled to get their services from any qualified medical provider.
He said there was no evidence presented that Planned Parenthood is not qualified to offer family planning services. Instead, Wake said, the law is simply an attempt by legislators to prevent Planned Parenthood from getting any federal or state funds, no matter for what they are used.
Wake's ruling is no surprise.
In October he had blocked the state from enforcing the law while the issue was being litigated. Wake said he has seen nothing since which convinces him the state can do what it wants.
Attorneys for the state already are asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that preliminary injunction. Wake's new ruling is likely to also end up before the same court.
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 law also permits eligible women to choose from any qualified provider. And that has included Planned Parenthood.
Last year, though, lawmakers added a provision to the law to decide that any organization that also provides abortions cannot be a "qualified provider.'' Wake, in his new ruling, said the state cannot do that.
"The Arizona act violates the freedom of choice provision of the Medicaid Act precisely because (ITALICS) every (ROMAN) Medicaid beneficiary has the right to select (ITALICS) any qualified health care provider,'' the judge wrote.
He specifically rejected the state's argument that lawmakers can unilaterally decide who is qualified -- and conclude that abortion providers are not qualified. Wake said the law "unambiguously refers to the provider's fitness to render the medical services required,'' not anything beyond that.
Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, who sponsored the legislation, said the law is needed to prevent indirect government subsidies of abortions. He argued that if the government gives money to help Planned Parenthood pay for its other expenses like family planning, that frees up those funds for abortions.
That is the theme of the state's existing appeal to the 9th Circuit.
Steven Aden, an attorney with the privately funded Alliance Defending Freedom that is helping the state defend the law, said blocking the law "would frustrate the public's interest, expressed through its elected representatives, in ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not directly or indirectly support abortions.''
Aden also is arguing the state has sovereign rights in determining who can participate in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program. He said it is irrelevant that most of the funds for the program come from the federal government.