As the pro-choice community waits nervously for a decision in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, we learned last Monday of another SCOTUS decision regarding the anti-choice group the Susan B. Anthony List. Unlike the real Susan B. Anthony, the SBA List opposes the advancement of women’s rights, claiming – falsely – that Susan B. Anthony opposed abortion rights, although many scholars contest this.
Given that the SBA List has been accused of making false statements about its own namesake, it should come as no surprise that they’ve been accused of making false statements against a politician they opposed. In Ohio, in 2010, they ran a billboard against then-Representative Steve Driehaus that said: “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted for taxpayer-funded abortion.”
Unfortunately, we can’t move to high-five Mr. Driehaus for voting to cover a basic reproductive right. Obamacare does allow abortions to be funded through a series of special accounts, but these are separate from taxpayer funds, and Driehaus has actually sued the SBA List for making this statement about him. Specifically, Driehaus referenced an Ohio law which makes it illegal to “post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate.”
Driehaus’s lawsuit was later dismissed, but a federal court did side with him separately. This is what caused more federal courts to intervene, which the SBA List encouraged, because they were so offended by Driehaus’ accusations. SCOTUS has now given lower courts the green light to proceed with the lawsuit, which will enable them to now begin examining as to whether the Ohio law is constitutional.
It’s important to note that the Supreme Court’s decision on allowing the lawsuit to go forward was unanimous, with even the liberal justices agreeing that the law against false statements did not have a strong enough foundation in the constitution for the lawsuit to be immediately dismissed. Even some progressive advocacy organizations have questioned whether the law is appropriate. The primary concern among many appears to be the fact that the law allows anyone to file a complaint claiming that a political statement is untrue.
But this entire controversy ignores a much larger issue, which is that far too often the media ignores blatant false statements made by right-wing politicians and activists. Perhaps if more media outlets were willing to call out these lies, then laws such like the one in Ohio would not be necessary. Now that the Supreme Court has become involved, a future ruling in favor of the Susan B. Anthony List could only embolden anti-choice groups to place even more misleading and derogatory information out front. As it stands currently, the SBA List is already planning to spend up to $10 million on political campaigns this coming fall.