Pro-life network Susan B. Anthony List is preparing to contest false statement charges in a hearing Thursday over a billboard ad that accuses an Ohio congressman of voting in favor of federally-funded abortion.
Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) had filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission alleging that SBA List uses false statements in an Oct. 6 political ad characterizing his vote on health reform bill. SBA List officials say the ad accurately reflects the congressman's voting record.
"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," said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement.
SBA List's billboard ad features Driehaus' picture and the message "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus Voted For Taxpayer-Funded Abortion."
According to the National Right to Life's score card, Driehaus voted "yes" to a health care restructuring bill that carried a provision that covers abortion on demand, and opens the door to future direct federal funding of abortion in multiple federal programs.
However, legislative information from the Library of Congress shows that Driehaus was one of 64 House Democrats to vote in favor of an amendment clearly restricting federal funds for abortion.
But Kerry Brown, SBA List communications director, contested, "We know the statements that we said on the billboard are true." Driehaus, she explained, voted for the November 2009 amendment blocking federal funding for abortion during the height of the health care reform discussion. However, the congressman later voted in favor of a finalized bill that did not carry the amendment.
"The language of the bill did not change. The only thing that changed was Steve Driehaus' position on [federally funding abortion]," she said.
Driehaus' campaign communications director did not immediately respond to emails and calls from The Christian Post regarding the situation and the congressman's position on federally-funded abortion.
In the meantime, the election commission has announced that there is probable cause that the billboard may carry false statements, which is against state law.
According to Ohio law, "No person, during the course of any campaign for nomination or election to public office or office of a political party, by means of campaign materials … shall knowingly and with intent to affect the outcome of such campaign … [m]ake a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official."
SBA List, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the state in federal court, claiming the state law restricts their right to free speech.
"The right to dissent is foundational to our democracy. By allowing the government to be the final arbitrator of what speech is acceptable, we open the door for those who are critical of elected officials to be silenced," said James Hardiman, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio.
Hardiman called the statute in question "vague and overly broad" and said it may cause the censure of free speech.
"The statutes in question create an environment in which people would be intimidated," he said.
In fact, Lamar Companies, the company that was slated to put up the ad on billboards earlier this month, were intimidated from posting the ads after it received a letter from Driehaus' attorney stating it would be included in the complaint if the ads went up. The complaint carries criminal misdemeanor charges that can result in fines and jail time.
"It's really extreme," Brown said of the charges.
The court ruled against the lawsuit Monday along with a restraining order to halt the Ohio commission from deciding on the complaint. Brown says SBA List is considering the possibility of a federal appeal.
The Ohio Election Commission will continue with a full hearing Thursday to consider the billboard statements and validity of Driehaus' complaint.