1. Tax Overhaul Bears Gifts for Conservatives, Including Rights for ‘Unborn’.

By Jeremy W. Peters and Deborah Solomon, The New York Times, November 5, 2017, Pg. A23

Tucked away in the Republican tax plan are several provisions that have little to do with overhauling the tax code and more to do with ensuring conservative lawmakers vote for the legislation.

The 400-plus-page bill released Thursday includes changes that would codify the rights of “unborn children,” allow tax-exempt religious organizations to engage in political activities and impose hurdles for immigrants seeking to claim refundable tax credits.

At a Values Voter Summit meeting here last month, Mr. Trump said he was committed to “stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values” and said the country’s religious heritage would be “cherished, protected and defended like you have never seen before.”

The tax bill seems to deliver on that front. Among the biggest wins for social conservatives is the inclusion of the words “unborn child” in the legislation.

The language is contained in an innocuous provision related to education savings vehicles — so-called 529 plans, which are state-sponsored, tax-free investment funds that allow families to put aside money for a child’s college education. The provision explicitly allows expectant parents to designate a “child in utero” as a beneficiary of a 529 plan.

Parents have long been able to set up 529 accounts for an unborn child, but the provision accomplishes what anti-abortion activists have long sought: It enshrines into federal law the recognition of the unborn.

“An unborn child means a child in utero,” the provision states. “A child in utero means a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, said the addition of the words “unborn child” was a major victory for their movement.

The bill also contains a sought-after change by the religious right: repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from engaging in political activity.


2. Adoption tax credit part of ‘preferential policy for life,’ Congressman says.

By Maggie Maslak, Catholic News Agency, November 5, 2017

On Thursday, details of the Republican Party’s proposed tax reform legislation were released, including plans to eliminate an adoption tax credit intended to lighten the financial burden of adoption for families.

The tax credit, which was created through a bipartisan effort in 1996, allows families a maximum credit of $13,570 per eligible child. This amount can aid parents significantly, especially when families can spend upwards of $30,000 on the whole adoption process, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The new GOP tax proposal would eliminate these credits and repeal a taxable income exclusion for employee adoption assistance programs. Both of these would go into effect in 2018.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Ne) told CNA that adoption assistance sends the message that the government is willing to help families.

“The adoption tax credit is a clear and legitimate statement by the government that we have a preferential policy for life,” Fortenberry said. “We are vigorously making the case of its inclusion in the tax package. This is a real time, real life policy that works.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex), the principal author of House Republicans’ tax overhaul plan, argues that eliminating the adoption tax credit would allow Congress to expand the child tax credit available to most taxpayers, which would be increased by about $600 if the tax reform package passes.


3. In Reversal, Tech Companies Back Sex Trafficking Bill.

By Cecilia Kang, The New York Times, November 4, 2017, Pg. B2

After a bruising week before lawmakers, big internet companies including Facebook and Google relented to pressure in Washington on Friday and agreed to support a sex trafficking bill they had vehemently opposed for months.

The bill would allow victims to sue websites that knowingly support and assist sex trafficking on their site. State attorneys general would also be able to go after the websites that support sex trafficking content.

The companies had argued that they had worked hard to combat sex trafficking on their services, but that the bill would jeopardize a free and open internet, as well as subject them to many potential lawsuits for the actions of users.

But companies have come under increasingly harsh scrutiny in recent weeks, particularly for their role helping to spread Russia propaganda during the 2016 presidential election. This week, executives at Facebook, Twitter and Google faced tough questions from lawmakers in three congressional hearings.

Under those conditions, the bill, called the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, became an unpopular lobbying battle for the tech companies. Rivals such as the Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, Oracle and HP joined civil rights groups like National Urban League in support of the Senate bill.

After weeks of negotiating over details, an internet lobbying group announced on Friday that it had ended its battle to squash the bill.

Congressional aides said the internet companies had been invited to weigh in on the bill before it was introduced in August, but they declined. The companies then forcefully came out in opposition, warning that it would expose web companies to numerous lawsuits because the actions of users were hard to police.

Lawmakers said the new bill contained modest changes that clarified that state law enforcement officials would have to use federal law as their basis of suits, one of the final sticking points for the companies. And the new draft contained language that only websites that knowingly assisted and supported sex trafficking would be targeted.


4. At Vatican, ‘Tenets of Faith’ Seen as Crucial in Climate Change Effort.

By Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times, November 4, 2017

Religious leaders need to tell congregations that global warming can affect not just the environment, but also the spread of diseases and other threats to human health, participants said at a Vatican conference on Saturday on climate change, an issue that has been a priority of Pope Francis.

The three-day conference on public health and the planet, which ended Saturday, was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The conference reviewed studies and data that have emerged since Francis issued a forceful 2015 encyclical that highlighted the social and ethical issues caused by climate change, including mass migration and famine.

The participants shared “the most recent solid science on how climate change and air pollution undermines health, increases chronic diseases and the early results on how it impacts the brain,” said Joachim von Braun, the president of the Pontifical Academy. “Science is not just pointing at the environmental consequences of climate change, but also human health consequences” that affect both the poor and the wealthy.


5. Georgetown students vote not to take action against pro-heterosexual-marriage campus group.

By Mary Hui, The Washington Post, November 4, 2017, Pg. B1

A panel of Georgetown students decided not to take action against a pro-heterosexual-marriage campus group that had been the subject of a complaint accusing it of fostering hatred and intolerance.

After deliberating behind closed doors until after midnight Friday, the Student Activities Commission voted 8-to-4 that no sanctions should be imposed on Love Saxa, which advocates for marriage as “a monogamous and permanent union between a man and a woman,” the group states in its constitution.

The committee’s ruling is not binding, and is merely a recommendation to the university’s director of student engagement, who can choose to accept, amend or reject it. The issue will now probably come before the university on appeal, raising the question of how administrators at Georgetown, the United States’ oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning, will handle the controversy.