Groups Fight to Restore Tax Credits to Arizona Domestic Violence Programs

      PHOENIX (CN) - The Arizona Coalition of Domestic Violence says Arizona enacted an unconstitutional law that excludes its members from the state's Working Poor Tax Credit Program "on the sole basis that they discuss abortion with the vulnerable women that they serve."
     The coalition says Arizona HB 2384 is unconstitutionally vague and violates the 1st and 14th Amendments.
     The coalition was formed in 1980 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to represent programs that provide services to victims of domestic violence, and educate the public about domestic violence. "At least two-thirds of plaintiff's approximately 30 members currently participate in the Working Poor Tax Credit Program," the complaint states.
     Arizona's Working Poor Tax Credit Program "was designed to increase donations to qualifying organizations by allowing taxpayers to claim a credit on their state tax returns if they make a donation to a qualifying organization," the complaint states. Most coalition members qualify for and participate in the program.
     The coalition says that HB 2384, sponsored by Republican Assemblywoman Debbie Lesko and signed into law on April 12, punishes its members "for speech the Legislature does not like and impermissibly conditions the availability of a benefit on forfeiture of the right to speak."
     The coalition says it is necessary for its members to be able to provide information about abortion services to their clients because "the birth of a child (and the accompanying emotional and financial implications) can make it far more difficult, and even impossible, for a woman to escape an abusive relationship." (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Domestic violence victims "experience a range of sexually abusive behaviors," from emotional and physical violence, to rape and "birth control sabotage - deliberate acts that ensure that a woman cannot use contraception to prevent an unwanted pregnancy," the coalition says.
     The bill, scheduled to take effect Dec. 31, "could prevent pregnant women in crisis from deciding what is best for them and their circumstances - decisions that could have enormous physical, even life-threatening, repercussions," according to the complaint.
     "Programs that serve victims of domestic violence should not have to choose between much-needed donations and the ability to provide comprehensive, uncensored care to the women they serve," the coalition's executive director Allison Bones said in a statement.
     The organizations will be disqualified from participating in the tax program if "they 'provide, pay for, promote, provide coverage of or provide referrals for abortions' and/or if they 'financially support any other entity that provides, pays for, promotes, provides coverage of or provides referrals for abortions,'" the complaint states, citing HB 2384.
     HB 2384 allows organizations with anti-abortion viewpoints "to participate in the tax credit program, while excluding organizations that express the opposite viewpoint on the basis of their speech," and no other subject matter has been excluded from the program for the more than 250 organizations, according to the complaint.
     In 2008, 36,568 taxpayers claimed the working poor tax credit, for a total of more than $11 million, according to the Arizona Department of Revenue.
     The sole defendant in the lawsuit is Arizona Department of Revenue Director John Greene.
     The Coalition wants HB 2384 permanently enjoined as unconstitutional.
     It is represented by Daniel Pochoda with the ACLU's Phoenix office.