PHOENIX -- Arizona cannot cut off family planning funding to Planned Parenthood simply because the organization also provides abortions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning.
Without comment the justices rejected a bid by attorneys for the state and a privately financed anti-abortion group to overturn lower court rulings to the contrary. Today's decision ends the battle.
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, with the state covering the balance.
Medicaid law also permits eligible women to choose from any qualified provider, which has included Planned Parenthood.
In 2012, lawmakers amended the law to say any organization that also provides abortions cannot be a ``qualified provider.'' Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, who sponsored the legislation, said any money the government gives Planned Parenthood to pay for other expenses frees up funds for abortions.
That argument did not wash with lower courts.
Appellate Judge Marsha Berzon said the issue comes down to a simple fact: Federal law allows those enrolled in Medicaid, which includes the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, to get the services they need from any qualified provider. And she said there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood medical staffers are not ``qualified.'
Attorney General Tom Horne, in seeking Supreme Court review, argued it's a question of state's rights for Arizona to decide who is qualified to provide family planning services. He said the 2012 law ``reflects a public policy preference for childbirth over abortion and gives effect to Arizona's justifiably strong interest in recognizing the inherent difference of abortion from other medical procedures.''