Monday, December 14, 2009

The IRS and Catholic Lobbying on Health Care

Go Douglas Turner at the Buffalo News! Great little article on the bishops and their impeded power on health care reform - and public life.

Today’s fight with the Catholic bishops over abortion in the health insurance bill is a far cry from a quarter century ago, when they could defeat a constitutional amendment giving equal rights to women and draw scarcely a peep of complaint.

Then-Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-Queens, wanted Congress to vote more time for the states to approve ERA. The bishops, here for a meeting, quietly called targeted House members from their D. C. hotel rooms and they stuffed it.

Now Democratic House members are going to the airwaves, the Internet and the floor to denounce the bishops for violating the separation of church and state and even threatening to strip the church of its tax exemptions.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, DFairport, co-chair of the pro-choice

caucus, complained to a Boston blog that she got a letter from a Catholic bishop asking her to explain her vote against an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.

The Stupak bill, which prevailed, bars any federal funding directly or indirectly for abortions.

“I’m not Catholic,” Slaughter said, “but they asked me to explain myself.” Slaughter made no threats about the church’s tax status but her comments were part of a brush-back that may have contributed to the defeat of a similar Senate bill sponsored by Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson last week.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., who received communion from Pope Benedict XVI at Nationals Park last year, has threatened the church’s tax exemption. MSNBC commentator Nancy Snyderman also questioned the church’s tax status after its successful effort on the House bill three weeks ago.

Could the Internal Revenue Service strip the Catholic Church of its tax-exempt status for sending representatives to Capitol Hill to lobby specifically for Stupak’s bill? Would it try to?

The answers to both questions are, probably not, even with the IRS under the control of strongly pro-choice President Obama.

Close reading of the IRS regulations indicate the bishops’ efforts on behalf of the Stupak amendment could be viewed as improper. However the regs become enforceable only if the lobbying is out of proportion to everything else a tax-exempt organization does. In the case of the Catholic Church, that IRS yardstick fails.

Even if it didn’t, the Constitution trumps regulations every time, said Law Professor Robert Destro of Catholic University. The church is protected by the First Amendment, Destro said. Not necessarily the part about freedom of religion, but the guarantee of freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

The Catholic Church, Destro said, has the second-largest health care system in the nation, after the Veterans Affairs Department.

“This isn’t just about lobbying,” he said, “it’s self defense in light of the First Amendment.”

Lucinda Finley, the Frank G. Raichle Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo, said the church might be operating “in a gray area.” The church may be at some risk, Finley said, lobbying for a bill with a specific number on it like Stupak’s instead of expressing a strong general viewpoint, but its efforts have to be weighed on a scale of relative magnitude.

But Finley said she does not agree with Destro’s view that the Catholic health system is under attack. “There’s nothing in these bills that would force them to do anything against their conscience,” she said.

“Because of the politics of it, I don’t think they would lose their exemption,” Finley said.

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Family Planning and the Economic Down Turn.

From Guttmacher's enewsletter. This wouldn't be a problem if women had access to timely, inexpensive, non-discriminatory health care.

1. Two studies examine the recession’s impact on family planning centers and women’s childbearing desires
Publicly funded family planning centers are struggling to meet a growing need for subsidized contraceptive care—a need driven by more women wanting to postpone childbearing duringtough economic times (see next paragraph). This surge in demand is straining already limited resources and is exacerbated by more women losing employer-based insurance coverage, according to a December 2009 Guttmacher report, "A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Publicly Funded Family Planning Centers." Two-thirds of responding centers reported an increase in the number of clients seeking contraceptive services between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, and more than four in five reported an increase in the number of clients who are poor or low-income and therefore eligible for free or reduced-fee care. In addition, nearly two-thirds reported a decline in the number of clients who are able to pay the full fee for services. According to the new report, some family planning centers have been able to expand their hours of operation to meet the growing need. Unfortunately, many more centers have been forced to cut back on services due to budgetary constraints.
An earlier Guttmacher study conducted in July and August 2009 found that nearly half of women surveyed want to delay pregnancy or limit the number of children they have—and for about half of these women, the recession has heightened the focus on effective contraceptive use. For many women, economic hardship means having to skimp on their contraceptive use, for example, by stretching their monthly supply of pills or shifting to a less expensive method—or not using birth control at all—in order to save money. Nearly one in four women have put off a gynecologic or birth control visit in the past year to save money, and the same proportion report having a harder time paying for birth control than they did in the past, according to "A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women’s Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions."

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Discrimination and the Establishment Clause.

This week the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that challenges public funding at a university for student groups that discriminate against gays.

Now if only the Supreme Court would consider patients' rights as an Establishment Clause issue.

I digress. It should prove to be an interesting case. You can read more about it here (at FindLaw, my new favorite site) and here's a clip:

The University of California, Hastings College of the Law ("Hastings"), like other American law schools, has anon-discrimination policy that forbids discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex, or sexual orientation." Hastings applies this policy to its own admissions decisions and programs, as well as to student groups. As a condition of receiving official recognition--a prerequisite for access to certain law school facilities, and for eligibility for funding--student organizations must themselves adhere to the Hastings non-discrimination policy. As the policy is implemented, that means that student groups must admit as a member any student who wishes to join.

The anti-discrimination policy came into conflict with a policy of the Hastings branch of the Christian Legal Society ("CLS"), a student group that requires all of its members to pledge to uphold, among other things, "biblical principles of sexual morality." As interpreted by CLS, those principles forbid "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle." Although CLS contended in its successful petition for review to the Supreme Court that this policy forbids a variety of practices, including, for example, adultery, the controversy at Hastings, as at other law schools where the CLS has clashed with student-group recognition rules, concerns sexual orientation.

After Hastings withdrew funding for CLS based on its failure to abide by the non-discrimination policy, CLS sued. The law school prevailed in both the district court and the appeals court. Who wins in the Supreme Court will likely depend on how the Justices read two lines of First Amendment cases.

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May Lieberman Rot In Hell - Without A Doctor.

For obstructing health care reform for a compromise that he said he would support.
For arguing with bad conscience.
For not representing his constituents but rather his own self-importance.
For not doing enough homework to realize that the Medicare buy-in works.
For not waiting for the CBO report before making this decision.
For hamstringing not only his 59 "colleagues" but the country.
For pathetically threatening a filibuster.
For being on the wrong side of history.
For keeping his chairmanship when he should resign for ethical reasons.
For switching parties in name only.
And for condemning the rest of us to this hand-wringing on a bill that should not only have been enacted two decades ago but which is already so compromised that we'll spend the next twenty years trying to make it work right.

More here.

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