Groups that work with domestic violence victims are challenging a new law that denies state tax credits to donors because the organizations tell women where they can get an abortion.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court, attorneys for the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence say its member organizations provide help to women who are abused. That abuse, the legal papers state, is often sexual, leading to unwanted pregnancies.
And part of that help, the lawsuit says, can include not only discussing with women their legal option to terminate a pregnancy but also refer them to places where that can be done. But doing so, under the terms of HB 2384, could dry up the donations the organizations say are necessary to keep their doors open.
"If HB 2384 is allow to go into effect, the only way that (the coalition's) members can ensure continued participation in the tax credit program would be to self-censor and categorically withhold any information about and referrals for abortion from the women they serve,'' the lawsuit says.
House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, who sponsored the legislation, conceded the point. But she said Arizona is entitled to decide who does -- and does not -- qualify for tax credits.
State law provides individuals a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit for donations to charitable organizations that spend half of their funds on the poor, chronically ill or physically disabled, up to $200 for individuals and $400 for couples.
In 2008, more than 36,000 Arizonans claimed a total of $11 million in tax credits for donations to more than 250 organizations.
This measure disallows those credits unless the charity affirms it "does not provide, pay for, promote, provide coverage of or provide referrals for abortions and does not financially support any other entity that provides, pays for, promotes, provides coverage of or provides referrals for abortions.''
The American Civil Liberties Union, which took up the case on behalf of the coalition and its members, said the wording is vague. Lawyers said there is no definition of what amounts to promoting abortion, with the possibility that an organization could get in trouble solely by discussing that as an option with a client.
"I'm not sure that their concerns are founded,'' Lesko said. "I don't believe my legislation would restrict the domestic violence shelters or anybody else from giving options.''
Those options for a pregnant woman, she said, include keeping the baby, giving it up for adoption or terminating the pregnancy.
Lesko said where an organization would run afoul of her legislation is by giving a client the address of a clinic where she could have an abortion -- information she acknowledged is publicly available.
"They can certainly say, 'Look in the phone book,' '' she said.
"I think most women, since Planned Parenthood has been around for years and years, know that Planned Parenthood offers abortion,'' Lesko continued. "So it's not very difficult for a woman, if they want to have an abortion, to look in a phone book or look online if they have Internet access.''
But the lawsuit says it is "essential that a counselor or advocate have the freedom to provide a victim with any needed or wanted information about, and referrals for, abortion.''
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which helped to craft the measure, acknowledged that a similar restriction does not exist for organizations that want to provide referrals to crisis pregnancy centers where women are urged to continue the pregnancy. But she said lawmakers are entitled to make that distinction.
"The state has a public policy that favors life, not abortion,'' she said.