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Updated May 2, 2013 - 2:52 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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