Ohio voters this November won't be seeing a controversial ad campaign that accuses Ohio Representative Steve Driehaus of betraying his pro-life convictions to pass health care reform.
Instead, they may be watching a legal battle over the contents of the law, as the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List defends its claim that the new law funds abortion through insurance premiums and community health centers.
Representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have reached the same conclusion. But SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser could face fines or jail time for attempting to run billboards saying Representative Driehaus “voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.”
Driehaus' complaint to the Ohio Elections Commission stopped the ads from running, when the commission chose to investigate SBA List's billboard as an illegal “false statement.”
On October 25, a federal judge dismissed SBA List's counter-suit claiming that the Ohio statute was choking off constitutionally protected speech. Speaking to CNA on October 26, Dannenfelser explained that the disputed Ohio billboards simply repeated the findings of the USCCB.
“The Catholic Church's position,” she said, “is also our position. The bill that all these members of Congress voted for ... does not have a prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion.” Nor, she said, does a presidential executive order address the main concerns about abortion funding.
Dannenfelser said Driehaus and other Democrats had previously insisted on these very same flaws being corrected in any comprehensive health care bill. “This was not only the position of the entire pro-life movement, but it was the position of Congressman Driehaus himself,” Dannenfelser argued.
Driehaus, she explained, had criticized earlier versions of health care reform, objecting strongly to abortion funding mechanisms that were not fixed in the final version. “He tried to get a resolution passed before the bill went through, that would have fixed the funding mechanism problem,” the president of SBA List recalled. “But that was rejected by the leadership in the house.”
Eventually, she asserted, political pressure caused Driehaus and other pro-life Democrats to accept an executive order from President Obama, in place of restrictions in the bill. While the White House said the executive order would “ensure that Federal funds are not used” for elective abortion, the USCCB's lawyers concluded that the order would prevent abortion funding in some cases, but allow it in others.
Dannenfelser also drew attention to the comments of Cardinal Francis George. The cardinal initially praised the Senate's efforts toward health care reform, but wrote in March that the final version of the bill “expands federal funding and the role of the federal government in the provision of abortion procedures.” Why, Dannenfelser wondered, was no one accusing Cardinal George of “lying,” or attempting to sue him –or the USCCB as a whole-- for defamation?
Driehaus has lost the financial backing of his own party, and is not favored to win the election on November 2. But with the Ohio Elections commission scheduling its hearing only four days before voting, it appears he succeeded in silencing his former allies.