The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

May 22, 2013

GOP questions IRS scrutiny of anti-abortion groups

(Continued)

An IRS employee identifying herself as "Ms. Richards" from the Cincinnati office responded in April 2009 that she needed more information about its events, including all "advertisements, schedules, syllabuses, handouts, a summary of each person's speech" and more, records show.

The coalition turned over those records, including Catholic writings opposing embryonic stem cell research and cloning and brochures handed out at events, including one that accused Planned Parenthood of promoting promiscuous behavior. In follow-up calls, "Ms. Richards" asked Martinek whether the group protested outside Planned Parenthood, Martinek said.

"Ms. Richards" informed her that its prayer gatherings there would be permissible — as long as "what we were doing would not be construed as protesting or picketing" and didn't involve harassment, according to a June 2009 email that Martinek sent to Wagenmaker. "Ms. Richards" said its application would be approved if board members promised in writing that the group would not protest outside Planned Parenthood, Martinek wrote.

Martinek said she and others were ready to sign such a statement, but that one board member saw it as a free speech violation and contacted Thomas More Society to protest.

Martinek sent a letter to IRS saying that members had debated its request not to organize Planned Parenthood protests, but wanted definitions of "organize, picketing, protesting" to ensure compliance. Rather than answer those questions, "Ms. Richards" responded with a letter seeking an explanation of how "prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood are considered educational."

Wagenmaker responded with a letter saying the inquiries were legally improper and calling for the IRS to grant the application promptly. She said the coalition had organized one event to pray the rosary at Planned Parenthood and that members otherwise assembled there peacefully on their own, carrying signs such as "Women deserve better than abortion" that do not contain graphic images.

Days later, the IRS sent its approval notification.

"It was a little weird and it seemed like they wanted lots of information, but we wanted our status," Martinek said. "The IRS is so powerful, we were just hesitant to get on their bad list."

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