Back in 2010, the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List attempted to purchase advertising to claim that pro-life Rep. Steven Driehaus (D-OH) had supported “taxpayer-funded abortion” because he voted for the Affordable Care Act. The Susan B. Anthony list did this despite the fact that according to the non-partisan and Pulitzer Prize winning Poltifact, the health care law does not provide any federal funding for abortions.
In response to the proposed false advertising campaign, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC), stating that the false advertisements violated Ohio election laws that make it a criminal offense to knowingly or recklessly make false statements about a candidate. In response to this, the Susan B. Anthony List asked a federal judge to issue an injunction against the Ohio Elections Commission on the grounds that the law at issue stifles free speech.
Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Susan B. Anthony list and the Ohio law was ruled unconstitutional.
The decision was hailed by conservatives as a victory for free speech.
However, when a potentially false ad is being run against the pro-life movement, it is amazing how quickly the movement abandons any belief in the first amendment and calls on the power of the government to end false ads.
Late last week, The North Dakotans against Measure 1 have began running a television ad, the “Becky Ad”, claiming that the constitutional amendment would ban all abortions. Now this is a bit of a stretch of the truth, and has Rob has pointed out, according to a “white paper” released by North Dakotans Against Measure 1 themselves, Measure 1 would not ban all abortions.
Considering the strong pro-first amendment stance taken by the Pro-life crowd during Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, one would expect the Pro-life organizations in the state to respond to the false allegation by pointing out the facts and perhaps running ads that would counter the claims made in “Becky.”
However, the North Dakota Pro-Life movement, led by old friend Christopher Dodson, the General Counsel and Member of the Executive Committee for North Dakotans Choose Life, responded by sending a Cease and Desist Demand to television stations who were running the “Becky Ad”. In that letter, Dobson threatened legal action under FCC regulations and North Dakota State Century code that “protect” against false advertising.
It is amazing how members of the Pro-Life movement so quickly pivoted from being against government intervention regarding false advertising to calling for government intervention to stop false ads.
We can’t have it both ways. Perhaps the sad reality is the ugly side of freedom means that if you are engaged in public debate, people may tell lies about you or a cause you believe in. It has always been this way in the United States. It is not a perfect system or a fair system; however, it is a better system than using the power of the government to shut down speech you disagree with.