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Brewer ends quest for pro-life language in Medicaid plan

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, R, holds a copy of the Medicaid Restoration Plan draft bill Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at the Capitol in Phoenix. Gov. Brewer is proposing the expansion of Medicaid to about 300,000 low income Arizonans. (AP Photo/Matt York)

After weeks of discussions on possible pro-life language for her Medicaid expansion plan, Gov. Jan Brewer is through trying to find a way to bar abortion providers from participating in AHCCCS.

Brewer refuted arguments from pro-life lawmakers and activists that Medicaid expansion would indirectly fund abortions.

“I believe that what they’re trying to address is unnecessary,” the governor told reporters on May 14, the same day Senate President Andy Biggs introduced budget bills that broke the longstanding stalemate between the Legislature and the Ninth Floor. “I believe that it doesn’t affect the institutions the way that they claim that it will. And I think that we solved that issue last year. And I think that people know who Jan Brewer is. She’s a pro-life candidate, longstanding. I have the Catholic diocese in support of my Medicaid restoration bill. That says a lot because they are a pro, pro-life group.”

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor is still open to ideas from abortion foes and would still consider proposals for pro-life provisions in the Medicaid plan. But there appears to be nothing Arizona can do in the wake of a federal court ruling in February that overturned a 2012 law that sought to bar abortion providers from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

“It doesn’t appear to be a terribly productive discussion at this point,” Benson said.

Benson also noted that the state is appealing the court ruling against HB2800. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case on June 12 in San Francisco.

Brewer began exploring anti-abortion language for her plan after the socially conservative Center for Arizona Policy and pro-life Republican legislators raised concerns about Medicaid funds going to groups like Planned Parenthood. Though state and federal law prohibit the use of Medicaid dollars for elective abortions, some pro-life advocates argue that abortion providers use the funding for overhead costs that indirectly subsidize abortions.

After initially saying that the issue was settled by the courts, Brewer changed course and began working with the pro-life center, lawmakers and others on the issue. But the move alienated legislative Democrats, who are expected to provide the majority of the votes she needs to pass her Medicaid plan.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, is still hoping for pro-life provisions in the Medicaid plan, and expects the Legislature to tackle the issue.

“I remain hopeful that at least a partial solution can be found to this issue,” Herrod said. “There are possible ways to have an incremental approach to addressing that issue. We anticipate the Legislature addressing that issue.”

But Herrod refused to discuss exactly how the Legislature could address the issue and wouldn’t discuss the language that such a provision might include.

Benson said the Governor’s Office spent weeks waiting for Herrod to provide pro-life language, but that it never came.

Brewer’s decision was welcome news for House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, who was one of many Democratic lawmakers who had said they might vote against the Medicaid plan if it included pro-life language. Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the decision eliminates a distraction and helps refocus the debate on more relevant issues in the Medicaid debate instead of “political red herrings.”

Campbell also said he didn’t think Brewer would’ve gained anything by adding the provision.

“I’m not sure what it ever was going to get her in terms of votes on the other side, and it definitely was jeopardizing votes on our side,” Campbell said.

Some Republicans said pro-life language wouldn’t have changed their opposition to the plan.

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, was an early supporter of Brewer’s plan but bolted over pro-life concerns. Following the court ruling on HB2800, Boyer said he doesn’t think there’s any way to keep abortion providers out of the expansion, and said any legislative attempt to do so would just be a “faux life” provision.

Boyer said nothing will change his pro-life opposition to Brewer’s plan.

“As much as I’d love to see pro-life language on there, it wouldn’t do anything,” he said. “She might (gain votes) with other members, but certainly not with me.”

Rep. Carl Seel, a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion, said the Legislature should still put pro-life provisions in Brewer’s plan, even if the court will strike them down later. Seel, R-Phoenix, has also advocated using pro-life language as a way to kill Brewer’s plan by depriving her of Democratic votes.

“We absolutely have to implement pro-life measures and life assertion measures,” Seel said. “Yeah, sure, the courts will probably strike it down. And likely they will. However, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put it in.”

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