SCOTUS gives anti-choice group green light in “right to lie” legal challenge

No word from the high court on Hobby Lobby or buffer zones, but it did weigh in on abortion and political speech

Topics: Abortion, abortion rights, Ohio, Susan B. Anthony List, anti-choice groups, Free Speech, political speech, protected speech, ,

SCOTUS gives anti-choice group green light in "right to lie" legal challenge (Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

For many reproductive rights advocates and journalists who cover these issues, Monday and Thursday mornings have become something of an anxious game of wait and see. The Supreme Court issues opinions at 10 a.m. on these days, and it is expected to hand down its opinion in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and a decision on buffer zones before the month is out.

But Monday’s set of opinions included a pretty significant reproductive rights development, and whereas Hobby Lobby and buffer zones have made national headlines, the Ohio case the court weighed in on today has flown mostly under the radar.

Here’s what’s at stake, and why it matters:

Ohio has something called a “false statements” law, which prohibits political campaign ads from featuring straight up lies or inaccurate representations of a candidate’s voting record. As Jessica Mason Pieklo notes at RH Reality Check, it was this law that kept the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) — a conservative anti-choice group — from putting up billboards accusing a Democratic state representative of voting for so-called taxpayer funded abortion services because he supported the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Taxpayer funded abortion is actually a really good thing and something that we should definitely do in this country, but it is not something that we do in this country. Federal Medicaid funds are banned from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a life threatening pregnancy, though 14 states do allow state Medicaid money to cover abortion in certain cases. In Ohio, public abortion funding is only available in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment.

SBA challenged this prohibition on its billboard, arguing in federal court that it really sincerely believed that the Democratic state representative supported taxpayer funding for abortion because of his support for the ACA and that the “false statements” law was a violation of its rights under the First Amendment. (For those paying attention, the “I really believe this to be true” thing works really well for anti-choice and anti-reproductive rights groups. Hobby Lobby sincerely believes that contraception is the same thing as abortion even though the medical evidence has repudiated this time and again, and lawmakers in states across the country sincerely believe that a fetus can experience pain at 20 weeks even though medical evidence has repudiated this time and again. Legislators in Texas, Louisiana and elsewhere sincerely believe that shuttering clinics makes abortion safer, even though the opposite has been shown to be true. It’s a total mess, and it usually works in the favor of groups that want to scale back access to reproductive healthcare.)



Here’s Mason Pieklo — a senior legal analyst at RH Reality Check — nicely summarizing how this works in the SBA case and others before the court right now:

And in this case, they want, ultimately, a First Amendment right to lie about the law — here the perennial favorite for scare-mongering, taxpayer funding for abortion — in addition to a candidate’s record.

To get there, in each of these cases, the anti-choice right has claimed in some way that the actual facts of a particular issue don’t matter as much as their reasonable belief of those facts do. In Hobby Lobby, the challengers argued that it didn’t matter that the medical science undisputedly shows Plan B is not an abortifacient. What mattered, they claimed, was that they reasonably believed that it did. In McCullen, those challenging the constitutionality of buffer zones argued that it didn’t matter that most clinic protesters are not “plump grandmas” who like to “speak softly” to patients and providers at health-care clinics. What matters is their reasonable belief that “sidewalk counseling” is not a form of wholesale assault. And here, it doesn’t matter that the SBA List can’t show that the Ohio law actually chilled their speech by preventing them from running the billboards. What matters, they claim, is their reasonable belief that it would.

What the Monday opinion from SCOTUS means is that SBA has standing to challenge the law, even though the lawsuit against them never actually went through and so the group never faced any penalties under the law. What happens next — as the case returns to the lower courts — may set a serious precedent for campaign speech. More to come as the case develops.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...