Republican legislative leaders are using a provision buried in the state budget in their latest attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.
The measure requires the state Department of Health Services to apply to the federal government for Title X dollars. Those are family planning funds which now are given directly by the feds to health care agencies.
As crafted, it requires health officials to argue that the state “is best suited to receive and distribute” these dollars to eligible agencies.
But there’s something else in the measure: If the health department does get all the money, it cannot redistribute any to any family planning agency that also does abortions, even if none of those family planning dollars actually are used to terminate pregnancies.
The move drew a sharp reaction from Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona.
“There is one and only one reason that this is in the budget,” he said. “And it’s for Gov. (Doug) Ducey to continue to double-down on his determination to expunge Planned Parenthood from the landscape.”
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said the defunding idea did not originate with his boss. But he said Ducey supports the entire package which was negotiated with the Republican-controlled legislature.
Howard said the federal government has been providing Title X grants through a grant process since the 1970s.
“Never in that entire time has this state government shown any interest in this family planning funding,” Howard said.
So what’s changed?
Earlier this year President Trump signed a resolution which overturned an Obama administration rule that prohibited states from denying Title X funds to any organization that is capable of providing family planning services.
Only thing is, those dollars do not go to the state now but instead to the Arizona Family Health Partnership.
Brenda Thomas, that organization’s CEO, said those dollars are distributed to clinics through a competitive bid process. And Planned Parenthood gets more than $2 million a year.
So Trump’s order, by itself, had no effect on Title X dollars coming in to Arizona. But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, a perennial foe of Planned Parenthood, said the presidential resolution essentially gave the state a roadmap: Get the dollars directly and then give them out as you will — but not to Planned Parenthood.
“It’s been no secret that the legislature, the Republicans here, are not fans of funding the No. 1 abortion provider in the country,” he said.
“We have, as much as we’ve been able to do, try to divert funds to other health care providers that aren’t abortion providers,” Mesnard continued. “This is consistent with that philosophy.”
The speaker said the desire to defund Planned Parenthood would exist even if that organization were to be able to segregate out the dollars it uses for abortions from what it spends on family planning.
“We know that funding is fudge-able,” Mesnard said.
“Essentially you end up propping up an abortion provider when you don’t have to,” he said. “There are other alternatives that are frankly even more widespread around the state that can provide the critical health care options that women need.”
Mesnard also said the provision was not purposely buried in the budget instead of being debated as a stand-alone bill. He said the action by the president came only recently, after it was too late to introduce new legislation.
“This isn’t being hidden at all,” Mesnard said.
Howard, however, said this goes beyond opposition to abortion.
“The state has regarded family planning health care as somewhere between a triviality and a mortal sin,” he said.
Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said he sees the change being pushed by GOP leadership in simple financial terms. He said if the health department is suddenly charged with accepting, reviewing and awarding grant applications it will likely have to hire additional staff, at taxpayer expense.
This isn’t the first time GOP legislators have tried to financially undermine Planned Parenthood with legislation.
Both state and federal laws preclude the use of tax dollars for elective abortions.
But Arizona, as part of its participation in the federal Medicaid program, provides family planning services for those who are financially eligible. The federal government pays 90 percent, with the state picking up the balance.
More to the point, Medicaid statutes and regulations permit eligible women to choose to get their family planning services from any “qualified provider. And that includes Planned Parenthood.
In 2012, however, lawmakers enacted a measure declaring that any organization that also provides abortions is automatically considered not qualified.
Supporters argued that any money paid to Planned Parenthood effectively underwrites its fixed costs for other services, including abortions.
Federal judges struck down that law.
Undeterred, lawmakers and Ducey came back with a new plan last year allowing the state’s Medicaid program, at its “sole discretion,” to disqualify any entity that does not fully segregate the tax dollars it is getting to ensure that none of the cash goes to providing elective abortions. That even includes accounting for all overhead expenses like rent, lights and heat.
That resulted in a new lawsuit.
The law remains on “hold” after attorneys for the state agreed not to try to enforce it, at least not until it comes up with formal rules, a process that could take years.