Sun, Aug. 18

State employees blocked from Planned Parenthood payroll deduction donations

PHOENIX -- A panel of hand-picked gubernatorial appointees has blocked state employees from making payroll deductions to Planned Parenthood.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said Tuesday the move was made after committee members decided the organization was too "controversial' to be on the authorized list of hundreds of charities available to state workers.

Scarpinato denied that the move has anything to do with the governor's personal opposition to abortion. But he said Ducey "supports the decision' of the panel.

The move drew an angry reaction from Jodi Liggett, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Arizona.

"It does seem clearly political to us,' she said.

Liggett acknowledged the national headlines caused by videos which purport to show Planned Parenthood employees negotiating the sale of fetal tissue.

"It's a manufactured controversy,' she said. "And, in any event, as the governor's office well knows, we don't do tissue donation at all in Arizona.'

Liggett said the email from the state informing Planned Parenthood of the decision apparently did not reach the proper person until after the appeal period expired.

At this point, she said there has been some discussion of legal action. But Liggett said she's not sure whether that's an option, particularly as the state may have unilateral authority to decide who is -- and is not -- an acceptable charity.

That's the position Scarpinato takes on behalf of Ducey.

"The fact is, is this is a state-run campaign,' he said, run with taxpayer dollars.

"And we have to be responsible and thoughtful about which organizations are included on that list,' Scarpinato continued. "Organizations that are political and have been largely controversial are ones that we need to be looking at with a raised eyebrow.'

It wasn't just Planned Parenthood that got the boot. The Ducey-appointed committee also removed the Clinton Global Initiative from the approved list. It has been involved in addressing issues ranging from global health and childhood obesity to opportunities for girls and women and climate change.

Scarpinato said that organization, too, is too controversial.

Yet some other groups remain on the approved list.

The official policy of the State Employees Charitable Campaign says it is "comprised of direct health and human service, environmental and historical preservation charities.'

Liggett noted, though, that employees can give to Alliance Defending Freedom, an openly anti-abortion public interest law firm that has gone to court to defend various efforts by state lawmakers to restrict the rights of women to terminate a pregnancy. In fact, in the SECC listing, ADF is defined as "a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth in areas of religious liberty, family values, and sanctity of life.'

Scarpinato, however, said the governor sees no reason ADF should not be on the approved list.

"You're trying to put that in the same category as two organizations that have been constantly in the news for controversial and political activity,' he said. Scarpinato said it would be "silly' to compare ADF to either Planned Parenthood or the Clinton Global Initiative.

But ADF has, in fact, been in the middle of some controversial issues.

Last year, for example, its attorneys urged a federal judge to deny gays the right to wed. They claimed fewer straight couples will marry and existing marriages will become less stable if he allows gays to wed.

It lobbied for legislation billed as protecting the freedom of business owners to refuse to provide service to those whose views conflict with their own sincerely held religious convictions. That measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer.

And it is currently involved in defending a state law seeking to restrict when doctors can perform medication abortions as an alternative to surgical procedures.

Scarpinato said nothing in the new policy precludes employees from giving directly to these organizations. The only thing that changed is that ability to have small amounts taken from each paycheck.

And he said it's not like there's a lot of money involved.

He said in 2014 just 48 of the states's approximately 35,000 employees chose to give a total of less than $8,000 to Planned Parenthood out of about $577,000 in total deductions. And there was less than $1,000 give to the Clinton Global Initiative.

Most of the members of the panel that made the decision are department heads appointed -- and capable of being fired -- by Ducey. Scarpinato said the governor himself does not sit on the panel but does have a designee.

But he said Ducey has no qualms about the move.

"The governor believes this is the right decision to make,' Scarpinato said.