Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio

Does Obamacare allow for federal funding of abortion? That’s the question at the heart of a criminal complaint by an Ohio congressman that could send the president of a major pro-life group to jail.

Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio, filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission after the Susan B. Anthony List, or SBA, planned to place four billboards telling voters the congressman backed taxpayer-funded abortion because he voted for President Obama’s landmark health-care reform bill.

“Shame on Steve Driehaus. Driehaus Voted for Taxpayer-funded abortion,” the signs say of the freshman congressman, who trails former six-term Republican Rep. Steve Chabot.

Driehaus, who edged Chabot two years ago for the Cincinnati-area district seat, charged the pro-life group violated two Ohio laws against making false statements about candidates. A probable-cause panel of the commission voted 2 to 1 to hold a full hearing. 

In turn, SBA has filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to order the panel to stop its investigation until the court decides whether Ohio’s “false statement” laws are constitutional. The judge is considering a temporary restraining order against the Ohio Elections Commission proceedings and is expected to rule this afternoon.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in an e-mail appeal to supporters she is “outraged that a single member of Congress can use criminal statute in an attempt to intimidate a pro-life organization and take away our constitutionally-protected right to freedom of speech.”

SBA’s lead attorney, James Bopp Jr., called Driehaus’s complaint “politically motivated,” saying the congressman “calls himself a ‘pro-life Democrat,’ yet he voted for Obamacare, a law authorizing funding for abortion.”

“Now he is using Ohio’s unconstitutional law to silence his political opponent, because he doesn’t want it to tell the voters what he did,” Bopp said. “This is a last gasp effort from a politician who doesn’t want to be held accountable.”

Bopp argued “the government has no right to act as ‘speech police’ and tell us what we can and cannot say, or decide what is true, and what is false.”

“They especially cannot do so with regard to the type of issue advocacy that SBA engaged in,” he said. “The Founders deliberately took that right away from government when they crafted the First Amendment.”

Driehaus’ communications director has not responded to WND’s request for comment. The congressman has insisted the health care law does not allow for abortion funding and points to President Obama’s executive order in March that bars using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions in the health care exchanges created by the new bill. Driehaus’ campaign also points to the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

Responding to Driehaus’ arguments, SBA spokeswoman Kerry A. Brown told WND “the fact that the president had to issue an executive order at all means he recognized that there was room in the bill to allow for taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Brown said the executive order does not address all pro-life concerns in the bill and contends it would not hold up in court.

“It also does not speak to the fact that if the administration includes abortion as a preventative service, every individual and group health plan will be required to cover it,” she said.

In addition, Brown cited a Congressional Research Service assessment commissioned by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., that concluded the language in the health care bill and the executive order is not sufficient to prevent taxpayer-funded abortions.

The report concludes Obamacare allows federal funding of elective abortions for people purchasing plans in high risk pools. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for the operation of the high-risk pools, the report says, “neither explicitly provide the authority to cover elective abortions with federal funds, nor do they specifically prohibit the use of federal funds.”

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., inserted language into the health-care bill that prohibits federal money from being spent on abortion in circumstances beyond the Hyde Amendment exceptions of life, rape and incest. But the prohibition applies only to plans operating in insurance exchanges. There is nothing in the new law to prevent the use of federal and state money for abortion in the newly created Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.

‘Caved when it counted’

Driehaus is one of six pro-life Democrats targeted by SBA who initially were opposed to Obamacare because they said the legislation didn’t guarantee it would not fund abortion.

SBA said the pro-life Democrats, who personally were courted by President Obama to vote for the bill, “caved when it counted.”

Driehaus, SBA notes, changed from a “no” vote to a “yes” vote at the last minute despite the fact that there was no substantive change in the bill.

In an interview with Fox News, Dannenfelser said that “even if the commission prevents us from putting up these particular billboards, we will double down and make sure that our message floods his district.”

The group already has radio ads flooding Driehaus’ district, she said.

“We will simply not be intimidated into silence.”

Recent polls show Driehaus down by double digits, and the Democratic National Campaign Committee has pulled funding from his race. Other pro-life Democrats also are struggling.

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