Yesterday, Judge Timothy Black denied a request for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought against the Susan B. Anthony List. The case was brought by former Congressman Steve Dreihaus who argues that the SBA List defamed him in its campaign advertising by asserting that he voted for "taxpayer-funded abortion." There are a couple aspects of the ruling that are important.
First, the judge concluded that the health care reform law, known as the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act or PPACA, does not provide for tax-payer funded abortions. "Whether it is possible, under contingent circumstances, that at some point in the future, upon the execution of x, y and z, that the PPACA would not prevent taxpayer funded abortion is entirely different from providing for 'tax-payer funded abortion.' The express language of the PPACA does not provide for tax-payer funding abortion. That is a fact, and it is clear on its face,” the ruling stated. Here is one of the first legal rulings that interprets the law regarding its abortion provisions and it is definitely a win for those who wish to ensure that the law not be interpreted as funding abortions with taxpayer dollars.
Second, there is something strange, even fishy, about the pursuit of a defamation tort in the context of an election campaign. While I welcome what Judge Black said about the PPACA, I am disturbed by the prospect of the Ohio law that allows this suit to proceed. I am not sure that we want courts deciding whose campaign ads meet standards of veracity. There are limits, of course. And, in this case, it is abundantly clear that the officials at SBA List knew that their assertions of "facts" were more debatable than they allowed. But, it is up to voters to decide who is telling the truth in campaigns. After all, many big lies get through unchallenged all the time and both sides do it. For example, everyone likes to promote various tax policies as essential to economic growth, but it turns out economic growth is more complicated in its genesis than merely consulting the tax code.
However the case turns out, yesterday's ruling is something of a vindication for those pro-life Democrats who supported the health care reform law. “It was unfortunate that a vote for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was mischaracterized as a pro-abortion vote and used as a partisan tool to defeat pro-life Democrats, like Steve Dreihaus.” said Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats For Life of America. “The ruling will not correct the injustices done to good Members, like Steve, but it also vindicates the other pro-life Members who were also unjustly targeted, including Sen. Bob Casey (PA), Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), Rep. Jerry Costello (IL), Rep. Joe Donnelly (IN), Rep. Brad Ellsworth (IN), Rep. Paul Kanjorski (PA), Rep. Dale Kildee (MI) Rep. Alan Mollohan (WV), Sen. Ben Nelson (NE), Rep. Jim Oberstar (MN), Rep. Nick Rahall (WV), Rep. Bart Stupak (MI) and Rep. Charlie Wilson (OH).”