A provision in legislation designed to cut public funds for abortion could end up undermining a graduate medical education program at the University of Arizona.
HB 2384, which gained preliminary House approval earlier this week, would make it illegal to use public funds to train medical professionals to perform abortions.
But the language goes beyond direct tax dollars. It also forbids the use of any federal funds that pass through the state treasury or even through other levels of government.
And even tuition or fees paid to a state university of community college would be off limits for the costs of the training.
The move has alarmed Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson.
He said the obstetrics and gynecology program is required as part of its national accreditation to make available training on how to perform an abortion. He said while no student is required to accept that training, it must be an option.
"If the obstetrics and gynecology program at the university loses accreditation, 200 residents that are currently actively training ... will actually have to leave,'' he said.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, who crafted the legislation, said Tuesday she spoke with lobbyists from various hospitals who said their clients could live with the restriction.
But Katie Riley, spokeswoman for the UA College of Medicine, said officials at the school are not sure if or how the legislation might affect medical students and residents.
"Although abortions have been prohibited by law since 1974 at our teaching hospital, University Medical Center, medical students and residents have the option of learning about abortion at other facilities,'' she said. And Riley said this goes beyond the controversial issue of elective abortion.
"Educating young physicians on how to care for patients considering an abortion in the face of a life-threatening condition or other circumstances is an important part of their basic medical training,'' she said. "At this point it is unclear to us how the bill may affect this education or whether it compromises the accreditation of our residency programs.''
That's also the position of UA Healthcare, the private corporation that actually runs University Medical Center.
"My general view is we have to be able to train our doctors to provide life-saving care,'' said Kevin Burns, the organization's chief executive officer. His preference is for the provision to be removed from the bill.
Burns said he does not want the issue of training to be confused with questions of whether abortion can or should be used as a method of birth control.
"If a woman's life is at stake, you have to be prepared,'' he said, something that a doctor may not be ready to do if he or she has not obtained the proper training.
Lobbyist for some other hospitals, however, have decided not to actively oppose the measure.
Stuart Goodman, who lobbies for St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, that hospital, said no abortions are performed in the facility. But he said those enrolled in the family residency program are given the option of learning about abortion at off-campus clinics, a provision required to retain the necessary accreditation.
Goodman said hospital officials believe, however, they can find separate sources of cash to continue that training and not endanger the residency program.