Pro-Life Group Wins Skirmish, Congressman Wants it Shut Down

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 2, 2011   |   6:28PM   |   Washington, DC

A national prolife women’s political group won a skirmish in court against a former Ohio congressman upset that it would educate his constituents about how he supported the Obamacare legislation allowing tax-funded abortions.

The Susan B. Anthony List has filed an appeal in the Sixth Circuit Court on the constitutionality of an obscure elections law a Democrat is using to try to silence the pro-life organization. The pro-life group has also filed a request for permission to appeal former Representative Steve Driehaus’ defamation lawsuit in the Sixth Circuit Court on the grounds that there are still questions about the legality of the case.

In August, a pro-abortion-appointed judge ruled that Driehaus’ defamation lawsuit, alleging that the Susan B. Anthony List cost him his job and a “loss of livelihood” by educating constituents about his vote in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare, should be allowed to go to trial. The court also dismissed SBA’s challenge to Ohio’s False Statement law which empowers state officials to enforce stiff fines—even prison time—for candidate criticism they deem to be “false.”

Now, the federal district court in Cincinnati today granted the Susan B. Anthony List’s motion to allow it to appeal the court’s earlier ruling, which had denied the SBA List’s motion for summary judgment.

The SBA List had asked the court to grant it summary judgment against Driehaus’s defamation claims, but the court denied the motion, instead ruling that a trial was needed to determine if defamation occurred. So the SBA List filed a motion asking to appeal that ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Today, the court granted the SBA List’s motion allowing it to appeal the court’s decision denying summary judgment.

“We are very pleased with this latest action from the court and look forward to arguing our case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, told LifeNews. ““In his decision, Judge Black wrote ‘there is substantial ground for difference of opinion’ in our case, and he is certainly right. It is our opinion, and we continue to maintain, first, that former Representative Driehaus voted to allow for taxpayer funding of abortion when he cast his vote for Obamacare, and second, that we have the right to criticize that action under the First Amendment.”

“We now get to make our arguments on the Constitutional questions at the heart of this case before the Court of Appeals,” Dannenfelser continued. “The fact that we have had to expend vast resources to get to this point is an outrage and we hope our fight will spare others from enduring similar baseless claims.  We believe that the Court of Appeals will follow other Courts in protecting our First Amendment rights and end this defamation case.”

James Bopp, a prominent pro-life attorney representing SBA, stated that he believed this was the right decision, saying, “Other courts have ruled that the speech of groups like the SBA List, who try to educate the public about the votes of their representatives, is not capable of being defamation. We are hopeful that the Sixth Circuit will reach the same decision.”

The billboards would have said, “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion,” had they been allowed to run.  The congressman claimed that is false and that the health care reform bill did not contain abortion funding. Driehaus complained to Lamar Advertising and successfully persuaded the company to not allow the billboard purchase. But SBA came back with its own advertising and supported pro-life Republican Steve Chabot, the sponsor of the national partial-birth abortion ban who defeated Driehaus in November for re-election to his old seat.

Since Driehaus filed his suit last year, SBA List’s arguments have gained widespread support — as the ACLU of Ohio, in an amicus brief filed last October, came to the group’s defense. The pro-abortion legal group wrote, “The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech, and the best answer for bad speech is more speech.”

Dannenfelser maintains that Driehaus and other Democrats who opposed the bill on abortion funding eventually caved when the Senate version — which contained no limited on abortion funding — received House approval with a pro-life amendment to stop the funding. President Barack Obama eventually signed the pro-abortion Obamacare bill into law and issued an executive order that did not stop abortion funding but merely restated the phony limits in the bill.

“Driehaus was originally opposed to the health care bill because it did not contain specific language preventing the funding of abortion, and that has not changed,” Dannenfelser concluded. “The bill still lacks the necessary safeguards Driehaus said needed to be in place for him to support the legislation, and yet he voted for it. We made the voters in his district aware of his vote and there is nothing defaming about that.”

Driehaus withdrew the election complaint that could have resulted in fines or jail time for the pro-life group, although the state may still issue a ruling, but he moved forward with the lawsuit.

“A lie is a lie,” Driehaus’ lawyers wrote in his federal defamation lawsuit, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood.”

Previously, Danenfelser said Driehaus’ lawsuit was zapping the organization’s funds.

“This outrageous lawsuit is bleeding us dry,” Dannenfelser said. “This court battle has been draining us for months. We absolutely cannot let Steve Driehaus achieve his ultimate goal: to shut us down.”