An Ohio congressman has filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission charging that a pro-life political group has misrepresented him as a supporter of federal abortion funding. The pro-life group has asked a federal court to intervene.
The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) had intended to put up four billboards targeting Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus.
“Shame on Steve Driehaus!” the proposed billboard reads, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.”
The candidate filed a criminal complaint with the elections commission under a statute which outlaws making “a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official.” He said that his vote for health care legislation does not mean he supports federal funding for abortions.
Last Thursday, a three-member panel of the commission ruled in Rep. Driehaus’ favor, saying the complaint had “probable cause” and the billboards’ comments were not allowable. A full hearing will take place to determine whether the SBA List broke Ohio law.
The Republican-leaning pro-life organization has asked a federal judge to overturn the law, saying it has a chilling effect on free speech and lacks a requirement to prove “actual malice.”
According to the Enquirer, SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said the commission allowed the congressman to prevent constituents from “learning the truth about his vote in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion in the health care reform bill.”
“We are disappointed and surprised that the complaint was not immediately dismissed,” she said.
Kristin Day of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) said on Monday that her group was “pleased” that the commission initially ruled in favor of Driehaus.
“We are disappointed in those who would mischaracterize the pro-life Democrat’s vote for political gain,” she continued, saying that the congressman did not vote for taxpayer-funded abortions because “there is no federal funding for abortion in the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).”
Driehaus is also backed by the Democrat-leaning group Catholics United. Its president Chris Korzen said the SBA List claim lacked evidence. He charged that “the religious right continues to spread lies about federal funding of abortion in service of a partisan agenda.”
Writing at the Catholic Advocate, former President George W. Bush campaign advisor Deal Hudson charged that Driehaus wants to take away the freedom of the SBA List and its president Marjorie Dannenfelser to speak publicly about his voting record.
“Dannenfelser, if found guilty, could go to jail,” Hudson claimed. He also suggested that Driehaus originally had the SBA List’s view of the health care legislation because he sponsored the Stupak-Pitts Amendment which would have imposed statutory restrictions on the bill.
“Dannenfelser has said nothing about the health care bill that has not already been said by the Catholic bishops, speaking through the official statements of the USCCB,” Hudson continued.
While President Barack Obama signed an executive order applying the Hyde Amendment’s abortion funding restrictions to the health care legislation, critics say the order will not withstand a court challenge.
“(T)he Executive Order cannot and does not fix the statutory problems of direct funding of abortion at CHCs (Community Health Centers), and of funding insurance plans that cover abortions,” counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote in a March 25 memo on the topic.