Anti-Choice Groups Target Anti-Choice Democrats With Health Care Lies

Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Cincinnati-area Democrat who initially supported the Stupak amendment but ultimately voted for the final health care reform bill, is using an Ohio law to fight back against the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-choice group that has targeted Democrats like Driehaus in the midterms with false assertions that they supported federal funding of abortion.

Driehaus filed a complaint against the SBA List with the Ohio Elections Commission, invoking an Ohio law that prohibits “false statements” about candidates or their voting records in political advertising. Last week, the Commission ruled there was probable cause that billboards the SBA List planned to put up in Driehaus’s district violated the law, triggering a full hearing in front of the Commission.

After the Commission’s ruling, the SBA List’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser defended her organization on the grounds that that National Right to Life, Americans United for Life, Focus on the Family, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops all agree that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provides for taxpayer-funded abortion. “The larger problem here,” Dannenfelser went on, “is a public official’s attempt to use a criminal statue to silence legitimate debate on his record.”

Yesterday the SBA List sued Driehaus and the Elections Commission in federal court, seeking to have the Ohio election law declared an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

The SBA List and its allies are alone in making their false claims about the abortion funding in the PPACA. Earlier last week, the political advocacy group Catholics United — which had helped round up Catholic support for the final health care bill that was opposed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other participants in the Stop the Abortion Mandate coalition — gathered over 30 signatures of Catholics in the Cincinnati area, including 11 nuns, calling on the SBA List “to stop making the false claim that Congressman Steve Driehaus (OH-01) voted to expand federal funding of abortion.”

Dana Goldstein, who has reported extensively on the intricacies of the funding provisions in the PPACA, debunked a similar falsehood when Sarah Palin claimed two weeks ago that the PPACA represented “the biggest advance of the abortion industry in America.” 

Anti-choice groups, including the SBA List and Americans United for Life, insist that the PPACA doesn’t explicitly exclude federal funding for abortion procedures or taxpayer funding of insurance plans that cover abortion and are available on the exchange. (The law does in fact exclude such federal funding, and anyone using federal subsidies to purchase a plan that covers abortion from the exchange must, according to the law, use their own funds for an abortion.)

On a press briefing call today, in which this issue was described as one that could decide “key races” in the midterms, AUL’s legal counsel William Saunders asserted that the health care law is a “massive expansion of abortion.”

But the Guttmacher Institute has already dispensed with that argument:

[F]ederal funds—in this case, subsidy dollars for individuals purchasing insurance plans on the new health care “exchanges” that are slated to become operational in 2014—may not be used to pay for abortion coverage (except in extreme cases), but individuals, at least in theory, may purchase a plan that includes abortion coverage so long as the abortion coverage itself is paid for with their own money. (This mirrors the Hyde Amendment, under which federal Medicaid dollars may not be used to pay for most abortions, but states may cover the procedure for their Medicaid recipients using their own funds.)

Guttmacher concluded that the “the complex, politicized arrangements the legislation necessitates militate heavily against the likelihood” that plans covering abortion would even be offered on the exchange.

In the Ohio Elections Commission proceeding, Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee law school, submitted a detailed affidavit that concluded, “The provisions of the PPACA are a matter of public record. It is a fact that it does not provide taxpayer funding of abortions. . . . This is not and has never been a matter of opinion on which reasonable minds can differ.”

The executive director of Democrats for Life, Kristen Day, also filed two affidavits, asserting that the SBA List’s statements were false and that it and other anti-choice groups understood that the PPACA does not provide for taxpayer funding of abortion. During the debate over the health care law, Day had initially aligned her group with the SBA List and other members of the Stop the Abortion Mandate Coalition to support the Stupak amendment.

Catholics United’s executive director, Chris Korzen, thinks the SBA List is trying to avoid the discovery process in the Elections Commission proceeding, in which Driehaus has already served subpoenas for depositions and document requests. That proceeding will involve “an investigation into who knew what and were these groups aware that there’s not federal funding of abortion” in the health care law, Korzen said.