PHOENIX - Saying the move would make no sense, Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday refused to insert an anti-abortion provision into her plan to expand the state Medicaid program.
Brewer said she signed legislation last year to preclude Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System funds from being used to pay for services provided by Planned Parenthood.
State and federal laws already preclude public funds from paying for elective abortions. But Planned Parenthood critics fear family-planning dollars will end up underwriting the organization's abortion costs.
The governor pointed out a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing that provision, ruling federal law gives Medicaid recipients the right to choose among all qualified providers "without government interference."
Despite that ruling, which is on appeal, Cathi Herrod of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy asked Brewer last month to include the very same language in her proposal to tap into the federal Affordable Care Act to provide care to more Arizonans.
Brewer said that's not going to happen.
"We went down that route last year," she said Friday. "We lost."
The governor said she sees no reason to pick a new fight now, only to get slapped down again in court.
"It's probably time that we just move on," Brewer said, saying she does not want to throw legal roadblocks in the path of implementing a plan to benefit many Arizonans.
That presumes, however, she can get the votes.
Brewer already is struggling to get members of her own Republican Party on board. Many are philosophically opposed to the Affordable Care Act, which is the basis for Medicaid expansion, saying Arizona should not contribute to the $1.7 trillion federal debt.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said her refusal to put the abortion-linked language into the legislation does not help.
"If this is going to further abortion, then we're not going to voluntarily do this," he said.
But Brewer, still shopping for votes for her Medicaid expansion plan, also cannot afford to alienate the Democrats who have been largely supportive - and whose votes are necessary given soft GOP backing.
"We support the governor's plan," said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell. "But there's no guarantee if there are changes made."
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said any move would lose votes in her caucus.
Arizona currently provides health coverage through AHCCCS to nearly 1.2 million people. That includes most individuals below the federal poverty level, about $19,530 a year for a family of three, with Medicaid picking up about two-thirds of the cost.
The Affordable Care Act boosts eligibility to 138 percent of the poverty level, with the feds paying the entire cost of the expanded population initially, eventually dropping to 90 percent.
While Brewer opposed the Affordable Care Act, now that it has survived legal challenges she concluded opting in makes sense for Arizona.
Her staff puts first-year costs at $240 million, which would be paid through what amounts to a tax on hospitals. At the same time the federal government would provide $1.6 billion, allowing another 300,000 people to be added to the AHCCCS rolls.
Medicaid provides 90 percent of funds for family-planning programs.
Last year's legislation disqualified any organization that also performs abortions from getting family-planning dollars. Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said if the government helps Planned Parenthood pay for its other expenses, that frees up money for abortions.
In October, U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake barred the state from enforcing the law, ruling that Planned Parenthood "complies with all federal and state requirements to ensure that public funds are not used for abortion services."
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed this week to let attorneys for the state seek to overturn the injunction. A hearing is set for June 12.
Attorneys for the state contend Wake was not justified in barring enforcement. If nothing else, they said Arizona's interest in ensuring no public dollars help fund abortions outweighs the interests of Planned Parenthood in being able to provide government-funded family-planning services.
Any ruling on that case, though, is not likely to come before fall, long after the current legislative session ends.
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