PHOENIX – A federal judge on Friday dealt a setback to abortion opponents by prohibiting Arizona from halting public funding that the state indirectly provides Planned Parenthood for general health care services that don't include abortion.
The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake bars the state from applying a new state anti-abortion law to Planned Parenthood Arizona and a physician with his own practice.
Arizona already bars public funding for most abortions, but the new law would go beyond that by barring public funding for general health care services provided by abortion clinics and doctors.
The Arizona law was enacted earlier this year but it hasn't been implemented. Similar laws in other states, including Texas and Indiana, also are the subjects of court fights.
Supporters of the law said it is intended to ensure that no public money subsidizes abortion, but Wake said there couldn't be any indirect subsidization because Medicaid reimbursements provided Planned Parenthood Arizona for Medicaid-covered services only pay about half the costs.
As a result, he said, "there is no excess funding that could be used to subsidize abortions."
Wake said it's in the public interest to block implementation because otherwise some 3,000 patients would be denied the opportunity to get care from their chosen health care providers.
Agreeing with positions taken by Planned Parenthood and federal officials, Wake rejected the state's argument that federal law lets states use broad parameters to decide whether health care providers are qualified to deliver Medicaid services, such as whether they provide abortions.
The state's position conflicts with federal protections for Medicaid patients to choose their care providers, Wake said.
"Simply put, a state's determination of whether a provider is qualified to perform Medicaid services must at least be related to Medicaid services," Wake wrote. "The fact that the plaintiff providers perform legally protected abortions does not affect their ability to perform family planning services for Medicaid patients."
In deciding whether to temporarily block the law pending a trial, Wake said the plaintiffs are likely to prevail during a yet-to-come trial on the providers-choice issue.
However, state Solicitor General Dave Cole said that "doesn't necessarily tip the judge's hand on the merits (of the case) because he hasn't heard the evidence" that will be produced during trial.
Cole acknowledged that Friday's ruling was a setback.
Bryan Howard, Planned Parenthood Arizona president and CEO, said the ruling is a victory for poor women whose care won't be disrupted.
"No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor's care because of shortsighted political games," Howard said.
Wake scheduled a Dec. 6 hearing to schedule future proceedings in the case.