The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the long awaited “right to lie” case surrounding anti-abortion political advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List and former Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH). The lawsuit revolved around the SBA List’s attempt to campaign against Driehaus during the 2010 midterms by claiming that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus voted in favor of “taxpayer funded abortions,” and he should not be able to say he was a “pro-life” Democrat. The group intended to erect billboards and run radio ads saying as much, but was thwarted by the Ohio’s False Statement Law, which says it is a crime to knowingly or recklessly make false statements about a candidate during an election. The SBA List then sued over the law.
Anti-abortion activists are crowing about a win. Then again, so are free speech advocates, which goes to show that there is a lot of confusion over what exactly got settled by this court ruling, anyway.
Here’s what you need to know:
1) The SBA List didn‘t win their case, they won the right to pursue their case. The Supreme Court didn’t weigh in on the actual merits of the case, but just said the anti-abortion group had the standing necessary to actually sue over the Ohio law. As former Care2 writer and legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo explains, the lower court dismissed the case, saying that SBA List hadn’t “shown a concrete enough injury to justify granting them standing to challenge the law, nor were their claims ‘ripe,’ or ready, for the courts to review.” What this Supreme Court decision says, essentially, is that the group did prove it was injured by the Ohio law when it wasn’t allowed to run the type of campaign ads it wanted to.
2) The Ohio law against knowingly promoting false claims in campaign ads is flawed. Sally Kohn puts it best over at the Daily Beast: ”Ask any 5-year-old and, if they’re being honest, they’ll tell you lying is wrong. That doesn’t mean it should be illegal. And it certainly doesn’t mean that criminalizing false speech is constitutional.” Lying, in and of itself, is not a criminal offense and certainly everyone has a right to do so and suffer whatever repercussions come of it. On the one hand anti-abortion groups are claiming the right to lie is a form of freedom of speech, yet at the same time they pass laws mandating physicians lie to patients about nonexistent and medically disproven “complications” of abortion as part of informed consent, effectively removing that doctor’s freedom of speech.
3) “Lying“ has become a wiggly term. Because there is science, and anti-choice science, we now have truth and anti-choice truth. We’ve already seen abortion rights lost in states like South Dakota and more because federal judges have declared that as long as a few doctors claim something the rest of the medical world disagrees with, there is no consensus so lawmakers get the final say. Such lack of consensus has given us laws like making doctors state that abortion increases risk of suicide, despite the study that claims such being flawed. Or allows politicians to say a fetus feels pain by at least 20 weeks post conception, despite ACOG and the Royal Academy of OBGYNS saying it’s simply not true. In the end, what it comes down to is that apparently as long as someone firmly believes they are telling the truth, it doesn’t matter how much evidence shows that person is lying, it is still “truth” because he or she has a sincerely held belief in that “truth.”
4) Obamacare does not fund abortions. It doesn’t. It truly doesn’t. It never did. But as long as you have people who believe that birth control is an abortifacient, and that emergency contraception and devices like IUDs are mini-abortions, there is simply no way to ever, ever make them see anything but their “truth.”
No wonder they are fighting so hard for the right to lie.
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