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Governor approves laws targeting Planned Parenthood

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Planned Parenthood could soon find itself in another legal battle to keep its Medicaid funding.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed legislation that gives the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, new powers to decide that certain individuals or entities cannot participate in the system.

That includes being found liable for the neglect of a patient that results in death or injury or failing to complete mandatory reports of sexual assault or statutory rape.

But the measure most significantly allows AHCCCS at its “sole discretion” to disqualify any entity that did not fully segregate the tax dollars they are getting to ensure none of those went to providing elective abortions. And that even includes accounting for all overhead expenses like rent, lights and heat.

The new law is the latest effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

Both state and federal laws already bar use of public funds for abortions that are not medically necessary.

But Arizona, 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 picking up the balance.

Medicaid statutes and regulations also permit eligible women to choose from any qualified provider, which has included Planned Parenthood.

In 2012, however, legislators amended the law to say any organization that provides abortions cannot be a “qualified provider.” Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said any money the government gives Planned Parenthood to pay for other expenses frees up funds for abortions.

A federal appellate court rejected that argument, saying there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood medical staffers are not qualified.

Christina Corieri, the governor’s health policy adviser, said Tuesday this measure is legally distinguishable in that it does not bar Planned Parenthood from providing family planning services solely because it also does abortions. More to the point, she said it’s justified.

“It has been longstanding policy that taxpayer funds cannot be used for abortions,” she said. Corieri said this simply ensures that policy — and the legal restrictions around public dollars — remains in place.

And Corieri said there’s another difference.

The 2012 law permanently barred abortion providers from participating in AHCCCS. The new law simply allows the agency to suspend any organization that does not adequately segregate its expenditures, meaning there’s an ability to once again become part of the Medicaid program.

Despite that, a new lawsuit remains a possibility.

“This is another attempt to prevent low-income women from coming to Planned Parenthood for services,” Bryan Howard, the organization’s president, said Tuesday after the measure was signed.

“The intent is the same but the mechanism is different,” he said. “We need to figure out what are the options in terms of going forward.”

The last time Planned Parenthood sued over the issue state taxpayers had to provide more than  $200,000 to pay the organization’s legal fees.

Corieri said the governor is not worried about a new lawsuit.

“They frequently resort to litigation,” she said of Planned Parenthood.” We think we stand on firm ground.”

Ducey separately signed another bill that effectively replaces a legally and medically questionable law which would have required doctors in Arizona performing medication abortions to tell women at least 24 hours before the procedure that “it may be possible to reverse the effects of a medication abortion if the woman changes her mind but that time is of the essence.”

Doctors who do not comply face suspension or revocation of license; clinics found in violation can be closed.

A federal court already had blocked the state from implementing that law after it was challenged by Planned Parenthood as “junk science.”

The new law eliminates the pre-abortion advisory but instead requires doctors to tell women who have taken the first pill, RU-486, that it, by itself, does not always result in an abortion.

Howard said that’s true — but misleading.

In most cases, he said, the RU-486 kills the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, simply begins the contractions to expel it from the uterus.

He said the new law could lead a woman who has taken only the first pill into believing the procedure had been halted without understanding the complications that could result from failing to expel what could be a dead fetus from the womb.

But Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, said the new law simply reflects reality. She said even Planned Parenthood acknowledges RU-486 is not always effective and that the measure simply tells doctors what they have to tell a woman who goes back to the clinic with questions before taking the second pill.

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