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Abortion issues divide Brewer, Center for Arizona Policy

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

A relationship that has seen Gov. Jan Brewer and the Center for Arizona Policy in nearly perfect agreement for four years is showing signs of strain after the socially conservative powerhouse took aim at the governor’s prized Medicaid expansion plan.

Just hours before the House voted for the first time to advance Brewer’s plan on Thursday, CAP President Cathi Herrod ended her group’s stated neutrality on Medicaid expansion, declaring that it opposed the plan’s passage unless it included anti-abortion safeguards that Brewer had already rejected. After the House voted down pro-life amendments on the floor, Herrod took to her Twitter account to chastise Republican lawmakers who opposed it, saying it is “unheard of” for lawmakers to abandon their pro-life commitments and warning that CAP will make legislators’ voting records available to identify those who did so.

As the night wore on, Brewer’s Twitter account leveled its own criticism at an unnamed but unmistakable target.

“It’s (a) sad day when a respected pro-life advocate uses this sacred issue to bludgeon supporters of life-SAVING legislation. #shame #medicaid,” Brewer’s Twitter feed declared.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson wouldn’t say who the message was about. “Read between the lines,” he said.

Herrod repeatedly refused to comment on whether she was undermining a critical ally’s top agenda item, and she refused to respond to Brewer’s message on Twitter.

“Stop badgering me. I gave you an answer. I have no comment,” Herrod told the Arizona Capitol Times when asked about Brewer’s criticism.

CAP has been officially neutral for months on Medicaid expansion. But in late March, Herrod proposed language for the expansion plan that sought to bar abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood from using Medicaid funds to “indirectly” subsidize abortions by using the money for administrative costs such as rent and utilities that would assist with the procedures. Brewer contemplated the language for several weeks but ultimately rejected it as unnecessary and unlikely to stand up in court.

The abortion debate threatened to fracture the coalition Brewer built around her Medicaid plan. Republican Rep. Paul Boyer, of Phoenix, switched his position on the plan over the pro-life issue, becoming an opponent after initially standing with Brewer at a pro-expansion press event. And legislative Democrats who strongly supported expansion threatened to oppose the plan if it included pro-life language.

On June 10, a CAP-sponsored strike-everything amendment to SB1069 was introduced in the House Appropriations Committee. Among other provisions, the amendment included a clause that was nearly identical to the language Herrod proposed in late March.

Brewer said she hadn’t read SB1069 and had no opinion on it. But she acknowledged that the abortion issue complicated her Medicaid plan.

“Generally speaking, when you’re dealing with policy, when you add other issues into that particular subject it makes it more difficult. I’m not too familiar with the amendment that they’re attempting to address. I thought that issue had been put to rest,” she said.

When asked whether CAP’s involvement in the Medicaid debate would have ramifications for Brewer’s relationship with the group, Benson said, “I do know that Gov. Brewer will still be in the big chair next session.”

Since taking office in 2009, Brewer has signed a number of sweeping abortion bills. She signed legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, banning abortions based on the race or gender of the child, requiring women to get ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy, prohibiting nurses from performing abortions and strengthening informed consent requirements, among others.

“She is the strongest pro-life governor this state has ever seen,” Benson said.

Last year, Brewer signed HB2800, which barred abortion providers from participating in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. A federal court struck down the law in February, leading CAP to promote the indirect subsidization language that emerged during the expansion debate.

Benson said he doesn’t think abortion has been a significant factor in the Medicaid debate, and noted that some pro-life Republicans have supported Brewer on the issue. Brewer has repeatedly noted that the Catholic Diocese has endorsed Medicaid expansion, which she sometimes refers to pro-life proposal.

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