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Senate panel favors new hurdle for Planned Parenthood

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Ignoring a possible lawsuit, a Senate panel voted Tuesday to erect a new hurdle in the path of Planned Parenthood getting Medicaid funds for family planning services.

Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said HB2599 simply says any organization that violates one of a series of laws can be disqualified from the program which is funded with federal and state dollars. These range from fraud and unlawful disposal of medical waste to being found liable for neglect of a patient that results in death or injury.

But Olson’s measure approved 4-3 by the Committee on Federalism, Mandates and Fiscal Responsibility also would oust any provider from Medicaid who did not “segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions.” And that would require separating out what money is used on everything from doctors to office supplies and lighting.

Olson said that simply adds teeth to existing laws that preclude the use of federal and state dollars for elective abortions.

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said his organization does not use public funds for such abortions. And he said none of the Medicaid dollars it gets for family planning services subsidize elective abortions.

But Howard said he sees the language as a sort of trap to do what a federal court already said the Legislature cannot do: cut family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood solely because it also provides elective abortions, a legal procedure that Olson admitted he opposes.

Howard said he has good reason to suspect the motives of Olson and the legislators who support this measure: It replaces a 2012 measure Olson sponsored which took more direct aim at Planned Parenthood — a measure federal judges have blocked the state from enforcing.

State 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 Medicaid, 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, Olson pushed through a measure to say that any organization that also provides abortions cannot be a “qualified provider.” Olson said at that time he believes any money the government gives Planned Parenthood to pay for other expenses frees up funds for abortions.

A federal appeals court blocked enforcement, ruling that federal law says those enrolled in Medicaid can get the services they need from any qualified provider. And the judges said there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood medical staffers are not “qualified.”

Olson said HB2599 does not suffer from the same flaws because “it doesn’t target any particular provider.” He said it simply ensures that abortion providers comply with all laws, including the laws that bar taxpayer funding of abortion.

“You will need to segregate the taxpayers’ dollars you do receive from the abortions that you provide so it is clear that you are following the law and are not using those taxpayers’ dollars to fund an abortion,” Olson said.

Howard sees another motive.

“This bill is indeed intended to prevent Planned Parenthood continuing to provide preventative services to low-income women in the state,” he told lawmakers.

Howard said if legislators pursue this measure they will end up back in court. And he predicted the state will lose, again — and taxpayers will again pick up the cost of his organization’s legal fees.

Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, chided supporters of the measure.

“I would say that since my Republican male colleagues are so possessed with abortion, I think they ought to be concerned with providing some legislation that would educate men on how to prevent these  unintended, unwanted pregnancies,

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said Republicans are concerned about preventing unwanted pregnancy — just not in the way that others might want.

“We have continually called for more abstinence training and teaching in our schools,” he said. “That would solve unplanned pregnancies, would it not?”

By contrast, he said Planned Parenthood and their supporters “advocate for elementary schools (to teach) how to put condoms on a cucumber.”

“Well, isn’t that a great thing to be teaching our kids?” Smith said. And he said if Howard is concerned about the state incurring more legal fees, there’s a simple answer for that: Don’t sue if and when this bill becomes law.

The measure now goes to the full Senate.

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