October 15th, 2010
01:03 AM ET
CNN's Dan Gilgoff filed this report:
A Democratic congressman from Ohio got a boost from his state's elections commission on Thursday in his campaign to prevent an anti-abortion group from running billboards attacking him for supporting the healthcare bill.
The decision by a three-member panel of the Ohio Elections Commission allows U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus to move forward with a complaint alleging that the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, is deliberately lying about his record when it says he supports government-funded abortion because of his March vote for healthcare reform.
The battle between Driehaus and a group of progressive Catholic supporters on the one hand and religious conservatives on the other is a reminder that abortion has become a key issue in the midterm elections in parts of the country, even as the economy and jobs remain voters' top concern.
Abortion has come to the fore in a handful of states where self-proclaimed "pro-life" Democratic lawmakers are facing allegations from conservative groups that their support for the healthcare bill legislated federally-funded abortion.
The allegations have surfaced in historically "red" House districts that turned "blue" during the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008, with the election of Democrats who claimed to be moderate to conservative on issues like abortion.
Conservative groups allege that the healthcare bill funds abortion by allowing Americans to buy into government subsidized healthcare exchanges in which abortion is covered.
Progressive groups note that the bill requires abortion funding in such plans to come from private premiums. Conservatives have dismissed such claims of segregated funding as an accounting trick.
On Thursday, the Susan B. Anthony List denounced the ruling by the Ohio Election Committee's panel, which allows Driehaus to collect depositions to support his claim that the Susan B. Anthony List is knowingly distorting his record on abortion.
"In an act of desperation and fear, Rep. Steve Driehaus is attempting to use a criminal statute to silence his critics," said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. "It is a fact that Steve Driehaus has voted for a bill that includes taxpayer funding of abortion."
It's an allegation that Dannenfelser's group and allied organizations have raised in roughly a dozen races across the country.
"There are a number of Democratic members of Congress who are calling themselves pro-life, but it's hard to do that after voting for healthcare, which was the largest expansion of abortion we've seen," says Tom Minnery, senior vice president of CitizenLink, a conservative advocacy group connected to Focus on the Family that is also spending money this cycle.
Dannenfelser says her group plans to spend $6 million on political activities before Election Day next month, about a third more than it did in 2008.
Though the group is mostly targeting Democrats in the House whom it says is responsible for the bill's abortion provisions, it is also spending of hundreds of thousands to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
Last week, the group announced it is partnering with other socially conservative outfits to spend $240,000 in TV ads "highlighting pro-abortion health care votes of so-called 'pro-life Democrats.'"
The ads target Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper and Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly.
The conservative campaign against self-described "pro-life" Democratic lawmakers has spurred a handful of relatively new left-leaning faith groups to come to their defense.
In Ohio, a group called Catholics United released a letter this month signed by 36 Cincinnati clergy and lay leaders, including 11 Catholic nuns, denouncing allegations that Driehaus' healthcare vote begat government-funded abortion.
In Virginia, a related group, called the Matthew 25 Network, is launching a radio ad Monday on behalf of Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello - who has also come under attack by religious conservatives - that lauds his Christian faith and his values.
"These were folks who took a courageous stand on healthcare reform, who led the fight to make sure there was no abortion funding in the bill" said Catholics United Executive Director Chris Korzen of the Democratic lawmakers his group is seeking to help.
"We knew that conservative groups like Susan B. Anthony List would be after them," Korzen said, "And we wanted to make sure there was an organized presence to set the record straight."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.