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Supreme Court To Weigh Dispute Over Antiabortion-Rights Group's Campaign Ad

Supreme Court To Weigh Dispute Over Antiabortion-Rights Group's Campaign Ad

April 16, 2014 — The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear oral arguments over an antiabortion-rights group's challenge to an Ohio law that prohibits false statements about political candidates in campaign ads, the Los Angeles Times reports (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 4/15).

Case Background

In August, the antiabortion-rights group Susan. B. Anthony List asked the Supreme Court to review the law, which was invoked by former Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) to block SBA List from erecting billboards that accused him of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions because he voted for the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). Driehaus said the group's claim was false because federal law prohibits the use of public funding for most abortions.

According to SBA List, the Ohio law violates its First Amendment right to free speech. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the group's attempt to challenge the statute on those grounds.

In January, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/13).

Key Issues

The high court is not expected to address the constitutionality of the law, but instead determine whether the law can be challenged even if no one has been successfully prosecuted under it.

According to the Times, Driehaus lost his re-election bid and withdrew the complaint before the Ohio Elections Commission could hold a hearing on whether SBA List had violated the state law.

The high court is expected to announce its decision by late June, the Times reports.

Comments

Michael Carvin, the attorney representing SBA List, said the Ohio law is a "speech suppressive" statute that "inserts state bureaucrats and judges into political debates and charges them with separating truth from oft-alleged 'lies.'"

Carvin added that the law in Ohio -- and similar laws in 15 other states -- could potentially allow government workers to sway elections by deciding that certain claims filed under the law have merit.

Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, said that SBA List's statement was "not a true statement," adding, "I hope the Supreme Court will not say that free speech protects your right to lie. At some point, you should not be able to consciously lie about your opponent."

SBA List's New Campaign

Meanwhile, SBA List announced last week that it is launching a new campaign that targets three Democrats -- Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) -- for voting for "abortion-funding Obamacare."

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said that "millions of women will gain elective abortion coverage under Obamacare through the Medicaid expansion and new federal premium subsidies."

However, Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that although the ACA might give some women more access to abortion coverage, it would not be funded with federal money. "[T]here is no federal subsidy for abortion services," she said, adding, "The law is very clear on this" (Los Angeles Times, 4/15).