October 21, 2010 — During a conference call on Wednesday, three Catholic groups criticized the antiabortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List for spreading misinformation about whether the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) allows federal funding for abortion services, CQ HealthBeat reports. The groups participating in the call were Catholics United, Pax Christi USA and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie (Bunis, CQ HealthBeat, 10/20).
The groups argue that SBA List's billboard advertisements targeting Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus (Ohio) contain false statements. The billboards claim that Driehaus voted for taxpayer-funded abortion services by voting for the health reform law. SBA List is also running radio ads in Cincinnati that make the same claims.
Earlier this month, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission, which found "probable cause" that the ads contained false statements and thus violated Ohio election law. The ruling has prevented SBA List from launching the ads (Mandak, AP/KDKA, 10/20). The commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue on Oct. 28. SBA List has filed a federal lawsuit asking that the Ohio election law be overturned.
Groups Say Reform Could Reduce Abortion
During the conference call, Sister Marlene Bertke of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie said she believes that the law does not allow funding for abortion services. She also noted that it allocates $250 million to provide assistance to poor and pregnant women. "There are fewer abortions when there is better care for women and children," Bertke said, adding that the "false advertising that has been taking place is morally wrong."
Catholics United Executive Director Chris Korzen said the health reform law "went to great lengths to ensure that federal funding of abortion was not included" (CQ HealthBeat, 10/20). He added that "every independent analysis of the health care [law] confirms it didn't expand" federal funding for abortion services (AP/KDKA, 10/20).
SBA List Executive Director Emily Buchanan said that Catholics United is a "splinter group" and that other Catholic groups, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are "on our side." She added, "We all stand together in saying that the [law] does allow for taxpayer funding of abortion."
According to CQ HealthBeat, the law allows federally subsidized insurance plans to offer abortion coverage if consumers pay for it with private funds. Insurers must keep the premiums for abortion coverage in separate accounts from other premiums (CQ HealthBeat, 10/20). President Obama issued an executive order affirming that the health reform law prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services. However, many antiabortion-rights groups, including SBA List, claim that the restrictions are not strong enough to prevent taxpayer-funded abortions (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/19). SBA List has spent $3 million this fall on congressional races involving antiabortion-rights House Democrats who voted for health reform.
Rep. Dahlkemper Targeted
SBA List also has ads running in Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper's Pennsylvania district that make similar claims. During the conference call, Pax Christi USA Executive Director Dave Robinson defended Dahlkemper's vote. He said she "went the extra mile for those of us who hold up a pro-life agenda in a comprehensive way," adding, "We believe her vote was a pro-life vote."
The groups said they have circulated a letter criticizing SBA List's campaign against Dahlkemper and other House Democrats (CQ HealthBeat, 10/20). The letter -- signed by about 50 people -- reads, "As people of faith who believe in upholding the dignity of life, we deplore the misleading and partisan attacks" on Dahlkemper (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/20).
ACLU Files Brief in Ohio Supporting SBA List
Also on Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in support of SBA List's lawsuit against the Ohio election law, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
The brief, filed Wednesday morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, argues that the Ohio election law is "vague and overbroad" and violates free speech rights. ACLU says in the brief that the law "cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny," adding, "The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech and, in any event, the best answer for bad speech is more speech."
During the conference call, Korzen said the groups disagree with ACLU's position. Korzen said, "There are limits on free speech," noting that it is illegal "to engage in defamatory speech designed to cause harm." He said, "There's a tremendous amount of harm done when voters are lied to in the context of an election," adding, "It undermines the democratic process, and I believe that there should be restrictions on lying" (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/20).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership