WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal court has delivered a double setback to a pro-life organization regarding its 2010 election advertising about the new health-care law.
Judge Timothy Black, whom President Obama nominated in 2009 to the federal bench in Ohio, ruled Aug. 1 that a defamation lawsuit by former United States Rep. Steve Driehaus against the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List could go forward. Black also dismissed a SBA List lawsuit that challenged an Ohio law it says infringes on freedom of speech.
In 2010 election campaign ads in Driehaus’ Ohio district, SBA List said the Democrat congressman voted for taxpayer-funded abortion in supporting the health-care legislation that has been dubbed “Obamacare” by its critics. Driehaus denied that the measure funded abortions and sued the organization for defamation.
In his opinion, Black agreed with Driehaus. “The express language of (the health care law) does not provide for taxpayer funded abortion,” Black wrote, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That is a fact, and it is clear on its face.”
The SBA List and the country’s other major pro-life organizations sharply disagreed, contending the new law authorized federal funding of abortion and/or federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. The NRLC and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops undergirded their positions in detailed documents. (NRLC’s explanation in the form of a 24-page affidavit by Federal Legislative Director Douglas Johnson may be accessed http://bit.ly/fEDRpq.)
“The SBA List’s speech was true, or at the very least it was its protected opinion about the meaning of Obamacare,” said James Bopp, a lawyer for the SBA List.
“In order to be defamatory, the speech must obviously be false and cause injury, but it must also be made with actual malice,” Bopp said in a written release. “That’s a legal term that means that the speaker either knew the speech was false and said it anyway, or the speaker recklessly disregarded finding out whether the speech was true or false. That plainly was not the case with the SBA List.”
The organization “researched Obamacare themselves, and they also read the opinions of other groups that also concluded that Obamacare provided taxpayer funds for abortion services,” Bopp said. “Yet this court found, in spite of that, and in spite of the fact that their speech is true or at least their protected opinion, that their speech might be defamatory. This ruling means that anybody criticizing a candidate is in danger of a defamation claim.”
Black threw out the SBA List’s challenge of a state law that empowers the Ohio Election Commission to bar political ads it considers false. The SBA List argued the law violated its free-speech rights.
“An unelected commission should not have the ability to decide what is true and false speech, nor tell us what speech we can and cannot hear,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a written statement.
Driehaus lost last year’s election to Republican Steve Chabot, whom the Democrat had defeated in 2008.
Andy Lewis writes for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.