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Updated Jun 12, 2013 - 4:07 pm

Judges grill Arizona lawyer over anti-abortion law

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two federal appeals court judges expressed skepticism Wednesday about an Arizona law that disqualified Planned Parenthood and other health providers that perform abortions from receiving public funds for other medical services.

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Marsha Berzon and Jay Bybee grilled attorney Steven Aden during a hearing about the law. Aden, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that Arizona had a broad power to determine that Planned Parenthood, and other organizations targeted by the law, were not qualified Medicaid providers, allowing the state to withhold from them Medicaid funds.

According to the Medicaid statute, anybody eligible for medical assistance can get it from an organization or person "qualified to perform the service or services required."

Aden said since the Medicaid statute does not further define "qualified," the state should have broad powers to determine its meaning.

"They have the authority to impose reasonable qualifications," Aden said.

But Bybee and Berzon seemed to take issue with Aden's construction of the state's authority. Bybee said Arizona's interpretation of Medicaid law would open the door to a broad range of restrictions on medical providers.

Alice Clapman, representing Planned Parenthood and one doctor who are the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, was spared the intense scrutiny faced by Aden. Clapman told the court that the defendants were qualified because they were competent medical providers, meeting the standards of the Medicaid act.

"They have both been providing Medicaid services for decades," she said.

A federal district judge ruled in February that Arizona's legislation violated federal Medicaid law. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake prompted an appeal from the state.

The law's supporters said it would ensure that no public money subsidizes abortion.

Opponents, including Planned Parenthood, said it would disrupt care for people who need other services such as cancer screenings.

The appeals court did not immediately issue a decision.

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