PHOENIX - Scrambling to find votes for her Medicaid expansion plan, Gov. Jan Brewer said Thursday she is now willing to approve legislation to stop Planned Parenthood from getting any of the funds.
The reversal comes just two weeks after Brewer insisted she would not let the question of abortion sidetrack her bid to add 300,000 people to the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
But anti-abortion groups have undermined the already shaky support Brewer has from Republicans for Medicaid expansion, saying the governor's plan allows indirect funding of abortions.
Efforts championed by the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy have caused some GOP legislators who had been on the fence to defect, leaving Brewer short of the votes she needs.
So on Thursday, even as Brewer called the criticism an issue "that I didn't think was valid," the governor indicated she is willing to deal.
"If you have legislators that have concerns, then it's our responsibility to solve it," Brewer said.
Less clear is whether there is a legal way to resolve those concerns: A federal court ruling last year voided a similar provision, also pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy.
But efforts by Brewer to win back balky Republicans could cost her other critically needed votes.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell warned any effort "to appease the Center for Arizona Policy and their right wing allies" could lose Democrats' votes.
Planned Parenthood already provides family-planning services to Medicaid recipients.
Federal and state law prohibit the use of public funds for most abortions. But last year, Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, pushed through a measure to deny Medicaid funds to any organization that also provides abortions.
Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod said such a restriction is appropriate.
"The concern is that abortion providers also provide family-planning services," she said, and "one dollar for family planning services to an abortion provider frees up another dollar for abortions and subsidizes their abortion services."
But U.S. District Judge Neil Wake last year voided the Olson amendment, ruling federal law says those enrolled in Medicaid are entitled to get services from any qualified medical provider, which would include Planned Parenthood.
Until now, Brewer has been unwilling to revisit that issue, saying the state already lost in court.
But Herrod has circulated to lawmakers a new proposal she thinks will get around Wake's ruling by spelling out that Medicaid funds cannot be used to directly or indirectly subsidize abortion services, including paying administrative expenses such as rent, employee salaries and utilities.
Campbell said that language could also be used to cut Medicaid funds to hospitals because they perform legal abortions there.
And Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said Herrod's newest proposal is little different than the one Wake struck down.
"The court was very clear that legislative initiatives to exclude otherwise qualified health care providers from serving patients under Medicaid solely because they provide abortions is against the law," he said.
Campbell said Herrod's organization is playing an oversize and inappropriate role in the whole Medicaid debate, calling it "a small extremist organization with no accountability to a single taxpayer or voter in this state."
Brewer said she's not catering to anyone but just "trying to resolve an issue that was out there ... so we can get Medicaid out there and accessible to the people that are in great need of it."
Herrod said she believes Brewer is just following her own true instincts.
"Gov. Brewer continues to be a pro-life champion," she said.
Despite her early efforts to dodge the Planned Parenthood issue, Brewer has made no secret of her distaste for the organization.
After signing the Olson legislation last year she said, "I do not support the goals of Planned Parenthood because I believe in life. … They believe in choice. So let's just cut right through the fat and tell it like it is."
And as long as the majority of lawmakers feel the way she does about Planned Parenthood, Brewer said, they are entitled to impose their views on everyone else in Arizona. The governor also has made no secret of the fact that, if it were up to her, abortion would be outlawed in Arizona except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/polls to respond to a StarNet poll about Medicaid funds.