PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood today challenged an Arizona law that is designed to prevent low-income women from obtaining health care from their provider of choice.
If the law is allowed to stand, low-income women with Medicaid insurance could lose access to critical reproductive health services from their chosen provider.
“This law is yet another attempt to intimidate doctors who provide abortion and to punish low-income women in particular,” said Jennifer Lee, staff attorney at the ACLU. “The state is playing politics with women’s health and is threatening to prevent low-income women from obtaining vital health services, including pregnancy care, contraceptives, and cancer screenings. Depriving women of that access simply because they are enrolled in Medicaid is not only illegal, it’s immoral.”
The suit was brought, in part, by Dr. Eric Reuss along with two of his patients who are pregnant. If enforced, these women would face the difficulty of finding a new doctor to deliver their babies in the fall, late in their pregnancies.
“Women come to me, despite myriad obstacles that stand in their way, in search of high quality healthcare. This law will force me to meet their needs, not with compassion, but with rejection,” said Dr. DeShawn Taylor, owner and medical director of Desert Star Family Planning and one of the plaintiffs in the suit. “Women should be able to use their medical benefits with a provider that they trust and feel comfortable with. They should not be restricted in their choices because of politics. It breaks my heart to have to turn women away. As upsetting as it is for me as a doctor, it’s even worse for my patients.”
The law challenged today singles out abortion providers from all other Medicaid providers, and imposes complicated and vague conditions on them in violation of federal law. Under federal law, states may not prevent Medicaid recipients from obtaining care from their provider of choice, simply because that provider offers the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.
Arizona enacted a law with a nearly identical effect in 2012, which was struck down after the ACLU and Planned Parenthood challenged it.
“There is an eerie déjà vu to this law. The state is trying again, this time with a more complicated version of the previous law, to use taxpayer dollars to play politics with medicine,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “We are certain that the court will see this law for what it is: a thinly veiled attempt to treat doctors who provide abortion differently based solely on the services they provide.”
Prompted by a spate of states passing similar laws to exclude abortion providers from their respective Medicaid program, the Obama administration reissued guidance stating that excluding abortion providers from the Medicaid program for reasons unrelated to their ability to provide health services violates federal law. Every federal court to consider challenges to those laws has agreed that they violate federal law.
“This case is about the people who rely on us for basic care every day. From Utah to Kansas to Florida, courts have said it is unacceptable for politicians to dictate where women can go for their health care. In fact, extreme politicians in Arizona already tried to prevent patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood, and a federal appeals court blocked this illegal effort,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “That they are trying again is simply politics. We’ll continue fighting in Arizona, and anywhere else there are efforts to block our patients from the care they need.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, along with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, challenged the law on behalf of Planned Parenthood Arizona, Inc., Desert Star Family Planning, LLC, Dr. DeShawn Taylor, Dr. Eric Reuss, and five Jane Doe patients.
More about this case can be found here.