Update: Both HB 2542 and SB 1527 have passed through the legislature, and are now awaiting the signature of Governor Doug Ducey.
We're almost at the end of the legislative session, and, just under the wire, state lawmakers have introduced an attack on Planned Parenthood that could have potentially disastrous consequences for women in Arizona.
Tuesday, Republicans in both the House and the Senate introduced bills in conjunction with the proposed state budget for next year, seeking to change who gets to control the distribution of Title X funds, which pay for things like birth control, cancer screenings, well-woman exams, fertility and pregnancy care, and testing for sexually transmitted infections.
Currently, that funding from the federal government goes directly to the nonprofit Arizona Family Health Partnership, which in turn distributes it to family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood.
But if the state Legislature gets its way, that money (which, on average, adds up to $5 million a year) would go instead to the state's Department of Health Services, which is prohibited by law from contracting with abortion providers.
In other words, Planned Parenthood — which operates the majority of Title X-funded clinics in Arizona — would no longer be eligible for Title X funding. Those clinics would likely be forced to close, making it even harder for people in low-income communities and rural areas to get access to health care.
"This is targeting communities like Maryvale, or the old-town working-class center of Mesa, or the neighborhoods in north Phoenix that are filled with immigrants and single-parent families," Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO Bryan Howard says. "Those are the neighborhoods that are going to lose access to health care, all in the name of wiping Planned Parenthood off the map."
But, he adds, "I don't think that Governor Ducey cares. The neighborhoods that we're talking about have not voted heavily Republican."
A spokesperson for Governor Doug Ducey says that the provision was not part of his executive budget request, and will need to be reviewed.
To get a sense of what would happen if the majority of Arizona's Title X-funded clinics closed, you only have to look to Texas. There, maternal mortality rates nearly doubled and the birth rate among low-income women skyrocketed after funding cuts forced 82 family planning clinics to shut their doors.
Previously, federal law prevented states from taking away Title X funding to health clinics that conduct abortions. But that policy was overturned earlier this year.
(It's worth noting here that Title X funds can't actually be used for abortions, so the objections from conservatives are based solely on the fact that Title X funding helps clinics that provide abortion in addition to other services to stay open.)
If the legislation introduced Tuesday ends up passing, Arizona's Department of Health Services will still have to go through the process of applying with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before it can manage the state's Title X funds.
That raises logistical questions, Howard says.
"They don’t really have any relevant expertise — they'll have to start from scratch in order to compete with the Arizona Family Health Partnership," he notes. "The state also has no staff to do this work, and is actually under a hiring freeze. So it’s not clear who would be responsible for administering these funds, or even the application process."
Still, there's a risk that the Arizona Department of Health Services' bid could be successful — enough that the Arizona Family Health Partnership is currently asking people to contact their representatives in the state legislature and ask them to vote no on HB 2542 and SB 1527.
Howard suspects that it's no accident that this particular piece of legislation was introduced so late in the session.
"The whole goal is to try and pass it really quickly, because people want to go home," he says.
However, he adds, "They do so at their peril. You can't witness all the protests and the standing-room-only crowds at town halls and Planned Parenthood events, and not recognize that this is really risky. Women are paying attention."