Arizona Loses Fight for Anti-Planned Parenthood Law in U.S. Ninth Circuit Court

A court-ordered halt to an Arizona law that bans the state from contracting with organizations that provide abortions has been upheld by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court.

In a 32-page ruling, the appeals court makes ground beef of arguments by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Tom Betlach, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System director, that the law doesn't run afoul of Medicaid's freedom-of-choice requirement.

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The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the state over the law, emerge victorious. That is, until the state decides to take this to the U.S. Supreme Court, which the conservative Center for Arizona Policy wants them to do.

Arizona U.S. District Judge Neil Wake had ordered a permanent injunction of the law, passed last year by right-wing state lawmakers, before it could take effect. The state appealed. But its reasoning is flawed deeply, the Ninth panel's opinion asserts.

The law on Medicaid stipulates that "any individual eligible for medical assistance . . . may obtain such assistance from any institution, agency, community pharmacy, or person, qualified to perform the service or services required . . . "

If you think that means what it is, then you agree with the unanimous opinion of the three-member panel of Marsha S. Berzon, Jay S. Bybee, circuit judges, and Consuelo B. Marshall, senior district judge.

Horne and Betlach says the clause is too vague. The appellate panel says their reasoning turns the Medicaid provision on its head:

"Arizona's argument hinges on construing the statutory term "qualified" not according to its ordinary meaning, but instead as a Medicaid-specific term of art conferring upon the states plenary authority to withhold Medicaid funds on any policy grounds they prefer to pursue. Under Arizona's reading, states can determine for any reason that a provider is not qualified for Medicaid purposes, even if the provider is otherwise legally qualified, through training and licensure, to provide the requisite medical services within the state."

The state had other, even weaker arguments that the panel picked apart. But don't worry, they'll likely resurrect all those points for another expensive appeal.

Click here to read the entire ruling.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.