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Updated May 2, 2013 - 2:51 pm

Abortion opponents blocking Brewer’s Medicaid plan

PHOENIX — A push by a powerful group opposed to abortion has forced
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to do an about-face and agree to new abortion funding
restrictions as part of her Medicaid expansion plan.

Brewer is making the change because the proposal is already on tenuous ground
in the Arizona House of Representatives and she lost support from some
Republican lawmakers because of the abortion opponents’ concerns. Although
minority Democrats broadly support it, the expansion is opposed by many
conservatives in both the House and Senate, and Brewer needs every Republican
vote she can get in the House. She’s lost at least one vote because of the
concerns raised by the Center for Arizona Policy.

The governor said several weeks ago that she would not consider trying to
revive language in a 2012 law blocked by a federal judge that prevents any
Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood of Arizona.

But she now is being forced to accept the changes to get those wavering GOP
lawmakers back on board.

“I’m trying to resolve an issue that was out there that was brought up that I
don’t believe is valid,” Brewer said Thursday. “But if you have legislators
that have concerns than it’s our responsibility to solve it.”

State and federal laws already prevent government money from paying for
abortions, but providers such as Planned Parenthood Arizona also deliver many
other services, such as family planning services and cancer screenings paid for
by Medicaid. The Center for Arizona Policy wants the Legislature to include
language preventing any new Medicaid family planning funding from going to
abortion providers either directly or indirectly.

“Medicaid expansion means that additional family planning dollars will go to
abortion providers,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the advocacy group for
Christian social conservatives. “So we’re seeking a solution whereby taxpayer
dollars will not be subsidizing the abortion industry either directly or
indirectly.”

A draft of the amendment Herrod wants calls for audits of Planned Parenthood,
but she said Thursday that changes are planned. She would not provide details.

Brewer surprised many in January when she announced she wanted to expand the
state’s Medicaid program to an additional 300,000 poor Arizonans. The plan is
expected to bring in $1.6 billion a year in provider payments from the federal
government. She hopes to pay the state share of the costs by using a hospital
assessment expected to bring in $250 million a year.

Herrod’s group is a powerful force at the Legislature, although it hasn’t had a
major abortion issue to champion this year until it jumped into the Medicaid
debate. Although Herrod said she’s neutral on the expansion, her concerns have
caused some lawmakers to withdraw support from Brewer’s plan.

The problem for Brewer is that she may lose Democratic support if she includes
Herrod’s requests in the Medicaid bill. Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said
there’s a way around that problem.

“There are ways of doing this to satisfying the concerns of most pro-life
Republicans without costing us support on the Medicaid proposal,” Benson said.

The governor’s idea is to put the language Herrod wants in a bill that will
move separately. The idea is that it will give Republicans cover and keep
Democrats on board because they could still vote only for the expansion.

Democrats aren’t buying that tack.

“It’s very clear that this is directly to the Medicaid expansion,” said Rep.
Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley. “There’s no reason why the women in our state
should be held hostage to get votes for Medicaid expansion.

“Our caucus has been clear all along that Medicaid expansion should be clean
when we vote on it,” Meyer said.

Brewer is a strong opponent of abortion and Planned Parenthood, and signed last
year’s funding ban as well as a prohibition on most abortions at 20 weeks of
pregnancy that is also being challenged in court.

Planned Parenthood Arizona president Bryan Howard said the federal judge that
blocked last year’s law made clear that it was illegal to exclude providers that
separately provide abortion services from Medicaid funding. He also noted that
Herrod waited months after Brewer’s announcement to raise her concerns.

“Cathi for no legitimate reason that we can see decided she that needed to
inject abortion politics into this debate after 2 1/2 months of discussion,’
Howard said. “This is just about making it more difficult for women’s health
providers to participate in the Medicaid program. That’s the bottom line for
Cathi and her organization’s mission.”

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