The Coalition That Could

by NR Interview
A small pro-life nonprofit’s trip to Capitol Hill.

‘We had worked so hard to get the application correct,” Susan Martinek, president of Coalition for Life of Iowa, based in Cedar Rapids, told the House Ways and Means committee.


Martinek owned a small clothing-alteration shop — replacing zippers and things — until she “retired” to help educate her fellow Iowans on how to better protect vulnerable human life. Last week on Capitol Hill, she explained how an IRS agent made that volunteer position more difficult, insisting that all members of the Coalition for Life of Iowa board promise to never protest Planned Parenthood, among other requests the IRS should not have been making.

Martinek, who wrote a book called Alterations the Seams Easy Way and will be teaching a class on the same subject at her local community college this fall, talked with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about her IRS experience.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: When and how did you feel harassed by the IRS?

SUSAN MARTINEK: We applied for 501(c)(3) status in October of 2008. In April the IRS began communications with us regarding our application. In one conversation with our IRS agent, she mentioned that our application was ready to be processed. They only needed one more item: a letter with the entire board’s signatures stating that, under penalty of perjury, we would not picket or protest or organize groups to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood. Upon receiving such a letter, the IRS would allow our application to go through.

LOPEZ: Is your annual budget really $1,000?

MARTINEK: In 2009 we had an average of under $1,000 in our bank account.

LOPEZ: Did you ever imagine you’d find yourself testifying in front of a congressional committee?

MARTINEK: No, when we were interacting with the IRS about this we got a small amount of coverage from the press release sent out by the Thomas More Society, mostly a few pro-life media entities.

LOPEZ: What is the bulk of your work?

MARTINEK: Throughout our history, we have organized and sponsored educational forums, given out real long-stemmed roses as a Mother’s Day fundraiser (we are giving out “Thanks Dad for Life” magnets to dads this Father’s Day weekend for the first time), and engaged in peaceful prayer activities such as 40 Days for Life and an annual March for Life.

LOPEZ: What do your educational activities look like?

MARTINEK: The forums we have organized have been on cloning and stem-cell research, end-of-life decisions, contraception and its link to abortion, and faithful citizenship. We also organized a “Respect Life” adult-education series.  

LOPEZ: What do you do to help women?

MARTINEK: We were co-organizers last year of an open-to-the-public educational event featuring Abby Johnson, a past Planned Parenthood manager who now works to empower women without the use of abortion, and another one earlier this year for Melissa Ohden, an abortion survivor who shares her story.

LOPEZ: Why did you wanted to retain the right to protest Planned Parenthood?

MARTINEK: Our intention was not to protest Planned Parenthood. We wanted to be able to go there and pray. We are praying for a better solution to unplanned pregnancy than abortion. Some people like to bring a sign. Since there were no guidelines in the 1023 application, I wrote the IRS seeking a definition of the words  “protest,” “picket,” and “organize.” We never received an answer.

LOPEZ: What made you decide to spend your retirement working at the Coalition for Life of Iowa?

MARTINEK: I feel called to work in this area because I believe abortion is a modern-day Holocaust. Actually, it is even worse, since about 55 million babies have been killed through abortion. At the end of my life, I want to be able to say, “I tried to stop the killing.”

LOPEZ: Did you feel intimidated by the IRS?

MARTINEK: Initially I thought, “Who fights the IRS? What would the repercussions be? Could we even win?” The IRS is big and powerful; luckily, we had legal help from the Thomas More Society. Without their help, I don’t know what would have happened to us. Are there other groups out there that were not able to stand up to the IRS? We did get our 501(c)(3) status in July of 2009 after a lengthy letter from our attorney, Sally Wagenmaker. We were lucky.

LOPEZ: What worries you most 40 years into legal abortion across the U.S.? Do you see things getting better or worse?

MARTINEK: Personally, I am very disappointed in our culture and our apathy on this issue. Our own government gives millions of our taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States, and even to Planned Parenthoods outside of the U.S.

LOPEZ: What gives you hope?

MARTINEK: When I’m with people who have no intention of giving up hope and who do hard work in defense of human life.

LOPEZ: What would you hope people would know and love and preserve about America?

MARTINEK: Their constitutional rights. Especially the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

LOPEZ: Were you encouraged at all on Capitol Hill?

MARTINEK: I was encouraged at the Ways and Means hearing.  The committee members seemed to really care, and most stated that they would pursue this further.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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