PHOENIX - A federal judge has permanently blocked Arizona from cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood solely because the organization also performs abortions.
In an 11-page ruling, Judge Neil Wake said legislation approved last year violates federal laws that say those enrolled in the Medicaid program are entitled to get their services from any qualified medical provider.
He said there was no evidence presented that Planned Parenthood is not qualified to offer family planning services. Instead, Wake said, the law is simply an attempt by legislators to prevent Planned Parenthood from getting any federal or state funds, regardless of how they are used.
The late Friday ruling follows an October order by Wake temporarily blocking the state from enforcing the law while the issue was being litigated. He said he has seen nothing since that convinces him the state can do what it wants.
That preliminary injunction has already been appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Both Arizona 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 the federal Medicaid program, provides family planning services for needy women. The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost.
Medicaid law permits eligible women to choose from any qualified provider, which has previously included Planned Parenthood.
Last year, though, state lawmakers added a provision to the law that says any organization providing abortions cannot be a "qualified provider," something Wake, in his new ruling, said violates the freedom of choice provision of the Medicaid Act.
"Every Medicaid beneficiary has the right to select any qualified health-care provider," the judge wrote.
He rejected the state's argument that lawmakers can unilaterally decide who is qualified and that abortion providers are not qualified.
Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, who sponsored the legislation, said the law is needed to prevent indirect government subsidies of abortions. He argued if the government gives money to help Planned Parenthood pay for its other expenses like family planning, that frees up those funds for abortions.
That is the theme of the state's appeal to the 9th Circuit.
Steven Aden, an attorney with the privately funded Alliance Defending Freedom, which is helping the state defend the law, said blocking the law "would frustrate the public's interest, expressed through its elected representatives, in ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not directly or indirectly support abortions."
He also argues the state has sovereign rights to decide who can participate in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, regardless of who provides most of the money.