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ABORTION RIGHTS MOBILIZATION, INC. v. REGAN

July 19, 1982

ABORTION RIGHTS MOBILIZATION, INC., LAWRENCE LADER, HAROLD W. BOSTROM, MARGARET O. STRAHL, M.D., HELEN W. EDEY, M.D., RUTH P. SMITH, NATIONAL WOMEN'S HEALTH NETWORK, INC., LONG ISLAND NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN--NASSAU, INC., RABBI ISRAEL MARGOLIES, REVEREND BEA BLAIR, RABBI BALFOUR BRICKNER, REVEREND ROBERT HARE, REVEREND MARVIN G. LUTZ, LAUREL CLINIC, INC., MILAN M. VUITCH, M.D., WOMEN'S CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH, THE FEDERATION OF FEMINIST WOMEN'S HEALTH CENTERS, INC., HARRISBURG REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES, INC., HAGERSTOWN REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES, INC., WOMEN'S HEALTH SERVICES, INC., JANE C. DELGADO, JENNIE ROSE LIFRIERI, EILEEN WALSH, PATRICIA SULLIVAN LUCIANO, MARCELLA MICHALSKI, CHRIS NIEBRZYDOWSKI, JUDITH A. SEIBEL, KAREN DeCROW, and SUSAN SHERER, Plaintiffs,
v.
DONALD T. REGAN, Secretary of the Treasury, ROSCOE L. EGGER, JR., Commissioner of Internal Revenue, UNITED STATES CATHOLIC CONFERENCE, INCORPORATED, and NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS, Defendants


Carter, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CARTER

CARTER, District Judge.

This is an action challenging the constitutionality of the government's enforcement of § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code ("Code"), 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) (1976). Plaintiffs are 29 individuals and organizations concerned about the right of a woman to choose to carry a fetus to term or to abort it and about the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state. The complaint names four defendants: two government officers ("government" or "federal defendants"), Donald T. Regan, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Roscoe L. Egger, Jr., the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and the two principal national organizations of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States ("church defendants"), the United States Catholic Conference, Incorporated ("USCC"), and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops ("NCCB").

 Defendants move to dismiss the action. They assert that none of the plaintiffs has the requisite standing to bring the suit, that the complaint does not state a claim upon which to grant relief, and that the court may not review the particular decisions to enforce or not to enforce § 501(c)(3) that are in dispute. In addition, the church defendants contend that they are not proper parties to this suit and that § 501(c)(3) is unconstitutional. For the reasons discussed herein, the motions to dismiss are granted in part and denied in part.

 I

 A. The Plaintiffs

 The complaint names nine organizations and twenty individuals as plaintiffs. Each plaintiff (except Judith Seibel) has submitted an affidavit to augment the complaint's description of that plaintiff's particular concerns and injuries. The plaintiffs are described briefly here; their particular grievances are discussed in greater detail infra.

 Abortion Rights Mobilization, Inc. ("ARM") is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization under § 501(c)(3) that seeks to secure and implement a woman's right to a legal abortion. It is a national organization and is prohibited from engaging in political activity under the terms of its tax-exemption. Contributions to ARM are tax-deductible.

 Lawrence Lader is a writer, and founder and president of ARM. He has been active in the abortion rights movement and has written a number of books on the subject.

 Harold W. Bostrom, Margaret O. Strahl, M.D., Helen W. Edey, M.D., and Ruth P. Smith all contribute to ARM, other abortion rights organizations and pro-choice political candidates.

 National Women's Health Network, Inc. ("NWHN") is a tax-exempt membership organization of many clinics, counseling services, publishers and others who provide a wide range of services to women and attempt to influence the public to support women's rights, including the right to have an abortion. Contributions to NWHN are tax-deductible, but the organization is prohibited under § 501(c)(3) from engaging in electoral politics.

 Long Island National Organization For Women ("Nassau-NOW") is a membership organization dedicated to the promotion of women's rights, including the right to have an abortion. Nassau-NOW is exempt from taxes under § 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.

 Rabbi Israel Margolies, Reverend Beatrice Blair, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, Reverend Robert Hare and Reverend Marvin G. Lutz ("clergy plaintiffs") are members of the clergy whose religious beliefs differ significantly from the Catholic Church's view of abortions. These clergy members have been active in the abortion rights movement but have not used the power of their pulpits to engage in political activities.

 Laurel Clinic, Inc., Women's Center for Reproductive Health, The Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers, Inc., Harrisburg Reproductive Health Services, Inc., Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services, Inc. and Women's Health Services, Inc. are clinics that offer to women a range of medical and other services, including abortions. The Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers, Inc., Women's Health Services Inc. and the Women's Center for Reproductive Health are exempt from taxes under § 501(c)(3).

 Milan M. Vuitch, M.D., is president of the Laurel Clinic, Inc.

 Jane C. Delgado, Jennie Ross Lifrieri, Eileen Walsh, Patricia Sullivan Luciano, Marcella Michalski, Chris Niebrzydowski and Judith A. Seibel are Roman Catholics who, in keeping with their religious beliefs, contribute or have contributed to the church but who nonetheless are opposed to the church's position on abortion.

 Karen DeCrow is a leader of the feminist movement and a former national president of the National Organization for Women. She was a candidate for political office in 1969 and is a potential candidate in the future.

 Susan Sherer is active in the abortion rights movement.

 All the individual plaintiffs are taxpayers and voters. Each of them in his or her affidavit expresses a substantial concern for the separation of church and state that is required by the establishment clause of the first amendment. Finally, plaintiff Brickner, as a private citizen, is chairman of the national issues committee of the New York State Liberal Party.

 B. The Statutory Scheme

 Section 501(c)(3) of the Code exempts from taxation groups "organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, . . . or educational purposes, . . . no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation . . ., and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) (1976). Organizations exempt from income taxation under this section in effect receive a double benefit because § 170(a), (c)(2)(B) of the Code permits an income, gift or estate tax deduction for contributions to most § 501(c)(3) entities. See 26 U.S.C. § 170 (1976). Section 501(c)(3) status, thus, is valuable to an organization because the organization can provide donors with an economic incentive to contribute to it and the organization is not taxed on the income received. Organizations exempt from taxation under other portions of § 501, by contrast, often are not entitled to receive tax-deductible contributions. See 26 U.S.C. §§ 170, 501 (1976).

 To maintain the dual benefit of tax exemption and deductible contributions, a § 501(c)(3) entity must refrain from any kind of campaigning for candidates for public office. 26 U.S.C. § 170(a), (c)(2)(D) (1976); id. § 501(c)(3). These groups, however, are allowed to lobby as long as their attempts to influence legislation do not constitute a "substantial part" of their activities. 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) (1976).

 C. The Dispute

 The Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), annually since March 25, 1946, has ruled that "the agencies and instrumentalities and all educational, charitable and religious institutions operated, supervised, or controlled by or in connection with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, its territories or possessions appearing in the Official Catholic Directory . . . are entitled to exemption from Federal income tax under . . . section 501(c)(3) . . . ." Exh. A to church defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Letter from T. Kern, District Director, IRS to USCC, June 16, 1980). Defendant USCC is the recipient of the Revenue Ruling letter that certifies the church's exempt status.

 Plaintiffs contend that this grant of § 501(c)(3) privileges was erroneously and illegally conferred because the church defendants are engaged in a nationwide plan to change abortion laws by, inter alia, lobbying and participating in partisan political campaigns on behalf of candidates supporting the Roman Catholic Church's position on abortion and in opposition to candidates with contrary views. Amended Complaint paras. 21-28; cf. McRae v. Califano, 491 F. Supp. 630, 703-28 (E.D.N.Y.), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 65 L. Ed. 2d 784, 100 S. Ct. 2671 (1980) (describing some of the church's electoral and legislative activities pursuant to its "Pastoral Plan" to outlaw abortion). Despite this violation of the Code, plaintiffs allege, the government defendants have declined to apply the § 501(c)(3) prohibition against electioneering or lobbying to the church defendants and their subsidiaries. By contrast, no organization with different views on the abortion controversy has been granted tax-exempt status under § 501(c)(3) while being permitted to participate in electoral politics.

 Plaintiffs contend that this illegal activity has injured them in several ways. The individual plaintiffs and the members of certain of the institutional plaintiffs have been denied access to a means of contributing tax- deductible funds to promote free choice candidates. Persons with opposing views about abortion, on the other hand, can use the church to funnel donations to support candidates opposed to abortion and thereby receive a tax benefit. Those plaintiffs who have stood for office or aspire to do so on a pro-choice platform have no means of collecting tax-deductible and exempt funds for their campaign chests. Their opponents may do so. The government defendants, it is alleged, have diminished the effectiveness of plaintiffs' political speech and their chances to prevail at the polls by enhancing the voice of plaintiffs' political adversaries.

 Plaintiffs also express concern about the entanglement of church and state through the selective grant of an unrestricted tax exemption to the church defendants. The government defendants' actions are viewed by plaintiffs as selecting a favored state orthodoxy, thereby breaching the wall between church and state and denigrating religious beliefs out of government favor. In addition, plaintiffs who are religiously compelled to consider abortion as the correct response to pregnancy or who, as ministers, must counsel their congregants to do the same, express the fear that government financial support, through the Code, of the Roman Catholic Church's position on abortion will imperil the opportunity of women to obtain abortions and thereby frustrate their ability to observe their religious beliefs. Plaintiffs who are members of and contributors to the Roman Catholic Church object to their church's political use of the religiously compelled contributions.

 The organizational plaintiffs complain that the government defendants have treated them differently from the church for no rational reason. In addition, those plaintiffs offering medical services to women, including abortion, assert that as a result of the church defendants' government subsidized political campaigning, restrictive ...


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