Ohio billboard case on abortion funding in health care law advances

Marjorie Dannenfelser and Rep. Steve Driehaus
Marjorie Dannenfelser and Rep. Steve Driehaus

.- A federal judge ruled Oct. 26 that Rep. Steve Driehaus’ complaint against the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) may proceed. The congressman has asked the Ohio Elections Commission to decide whether the pro-life group’s ad charge that he voted for abortion funding was an illegal false statement.

Driehaus’ campaign plans to depose SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, executive director Emily Buchanan, and former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a spokeswoman for the group. His campaign has asked for thousands of documents, including e-mails discussing the billboards, in part to evaluate whether the group believes its argument, Politico.com reports.

Making false statements in political campaigns is a violation of Ohio criminal law.

The SBA List had planned to run billboards reading “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.”

According to the SBA List, Rep. Driehaus’ attorney convinced Lamar Companies not to put up the billboards in order to avoid being added to the complaint. The pro-life group has announced a $50,000 radio ad buy in Rep. Driehaus’ district.

Kristen Day of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) characterized the SBA List’s petition as a request “to allow them to make false statements” saying that Rep. Driehaus’ vote for the health care legislation was a vote for taxpayer-funded abortion.

“All records, including any coordinated communication with the Republican National Committee, will have to be turned over to lawyers for Congressman Steve Driehaus,” read a DFLA press release Day sent to CNA.

“This is an historic first step to stop the mudslinging and lies that have come to dominate American politics,” Day continued, saying “there is no federal funding for abortion in the health care bill.”

The DFLA also criticized the SBA List for targeting Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.). The group said a similar campaign by Americans United for Life (AUL) uses “misinformation.”

SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser responded to the judge’s decision, saying “Nothing in today's ruling changes the fact that Rep. Steve Driehaus voted for a health care bill that provides for taxpayer funding of abortion.

“Steve Driehaus does not want his constituents to hear that he voted for a bill that provides for tax dollars to pay for abortions, but the fact that he did is a position held by the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ohio Right to Life and numerous other organizations and policy experts,” she stated. “We will pursue this case to the end and are confident the truth will prevail.”

Dannenfelser voiced agreement with the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union (Ohio ACLU) that the law gives a state agency the ability to police free speech.

Speaking to CNA last week, she said the legal case is one where “a backroom deal could completely wipe out an organization.”

In her view, the charges against the SBA List could lead to a costly and “highly invasive” legal discovery process in which every paper the organization has generated, including private strategy papers, must be provided to the court.

In an Aug. 20 letter to U.S. Representatives encouraging legislation to make permanent federal restrictions on abortion funding, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo wrote that the health care legislation funds health plans that cover abortions and force citizens enrolled in many plans to fund others’ abortions through their health premiums.

According to the cardinal, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, other possible abortion funding in the bill is dependent upon a decision by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, while still more funds could go to abortions in Community Health Centers if court precedent is upheld.

Last week Dannenfelser told CNA that President Obama’s executive order limiting abortion funding will not hold up in the court of law when it is appealed by abortion-supporting organizations.

“They see it as health care. They will sue, but they certainly won’t sue before the election,” she explained.

The SBA List head also suggested that many pro-life Democrats who voted for the legislation initially supported stronger funding restrictions because they believed that the health care legislation funded abortions.

Asked to respond to the claim that past support for such restrictions reflected a belief the bill funded abortion, Day told CNA, “The fact that we wanted to make the bill stronger does not logically imply that the bill allowed taxpayer funded abortions.”

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