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NRLC Crashes Press Call as Debate Over Free Speech and Abortion Claims Heats Up

With a U.S. District Court slated to rule today on the Susan B. Anthony List’s lawsuit over an Ohio law outlawing “false claims” in campaign ads, tensions are boiling among religious groups on both sides of the political aisle. The case centers around an ad launched by SBA List attacking a number of anti-abortion House Democrats for allegedly violating their principles by voting for health care reform bill, which the ad claims funded abortions.

The Catholic organization Catholics United hosted a conference call today to draw attention to the controversy and point out that the SBA List’s offending language in an Ohio ad — a billboard that read, “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion” — was also up on billboards attacking Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) in Pennsylvania’s Third District. But the conversation with reporters was interrupted by National Right to Life Legislative Director Douglas Johnson, who disputed the claim that the ads were in fact untruthful and started a heated debate that at times got personal.

“Are you familiar with the 23-page sworn affidavit where we enumerate section by section the parts of the [health care reform] bill that allow federal funding of abortion?” Johnson asked Chris Korzen, Executive Director of Catholics United. “It’s online and available to anyone who wants to look at it.”

Johnson was responding in part to Korzen’s earlier remark that “in SBA’s lawsuit, the substance of their claims [against Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio)] is not addressed. The group effectively wants the right to spread false information and lie in order to influence campaigns.”

“Do you believe that I was lying when I signed the NRLC’s sworn affidavit to the Ohio Elections Commission?” Johnson later pressed.

At this point, a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter admonished Johnson for crashing the call and suggested he host his own call at a later juncture, saying Johnson “came with an agenda and not a question.”

“I write for the National Right to Life News with a readership of over 300,000. What’s your readership?” Johnson shot back at the reporter.

“That’s really not the issue,” an unidentified reporter on the call replied.

Reached for comment, Johnson explained, “I waited to the point when there were no more questions from anyone else, and at that point wanted to make it clear about where they could go for our view.” Johnson said he “signed a document which I swore to … and that to the best of my knowledge is accurate and truthful. So the statement by [Pax Christi USA Executive Director David] Robinson that no independent authority agrees that the enacted law contains provisions for abortion is ludicrous.”

Johnson called Rep. Driehaus’ complaint against SBA List to the Ohio Elections Commission “Nixonian.” “You have an office holder using a government agency and criminal enforcement mechanism to attack his opponents,” he said.

David Robinson of Pax Christi USA took an opposing different view of the case, arguing, “I don’t think that the risk for free speech is as great as the risk to our democracy if we allow lies to be held up on the same level of truths in our political discourse.”

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