CHARLESTON -- An anti-abortion group has filed a federal complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that would allow it to advertise its position through radio ads, mass mailings and petitions.
West Virginians for Life claims new election laws wrongly prevent the group from distributing an ad with information about Supreme Court candidate Margaret Workman's 1993 ruling.
On its ads, the group would like to place statements about Workman's ruling that it says "requires West Virginia to pay for abortion for any reason for women on Medicaid," according to the complaint filed Sept. 30 in federal court.
It also would like to put on its advertisement the fact that West Virginia has spent more than $5 million on 12,000 abortions.
But Workman, the Supreme Court candidate, said the statement about her ruling is false.
"It makes a huge misstatement of fact," she said. "The state does not have to pay for any reproductive choices for anyone. Once the state decides that it wants to pay, then it has to do so in a manner that treats everyone equally."
The U.S. Supreme Court was the one to make abortions legal under certain circumstances in Roe v. Wade, Workman said.
"This has nothing to do with the morality or immorality of abortion," Workman said of the 1993 ruling she authored.
The ruling points to the same fact.
"First, this case does not turn on the morality or immorality of abortion, and most decidedly does not concern the personal views of the individual justices as to the wisdom of the legislation itself or the ethical considerations involved in a woman's individual decision whether or not to bear a child," the ruling states. "Thus, the constitutional question before us does not involve a weighing of the value of abortion as against childbirth, but instead concerns the protection of either procreative choice from discriminatory governmental treatment."
In addition, the case says there is no constitutional obligation of the state to pay for abortions, Workman said.
"It simply does not follow that a woman's freedom of choice carries with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices," the ruling states.
WVFL fears that the advertisements it would like to run will violate new election laws that went into effect Oct. 1.
The law redefines express advocacy as "advocating the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates," according to the complaint.
Although WVFL claims it does not endorse a particular candidate, it does promote the issue of pro-life, said President Shirley Stanton.
"We've always said, 'Vote pro-life,'" she said. "Under the new statute, that's said to be express advocacy."
Stanton, though, considers the group's advertising as issue advocacy.
WVFL considers the new laws a violation of its free speech rights.
But Anthony Majestro, Workman's attorney, claims many of the laws WVFL are protesting have been in effect since 2005.
"The newly enacted laws – the primary purpose – is to require those who make third party expenditures to disclose the expenditures and their funding," he said. "Those laws enhance speech by letting the public and candidates debate issues raised by the motivations behind who is supporting a particular candidate."
Majestro said WVFL claims their status should afford them special free speech rights.
"If they are going to ask the court to exempt them from WV law based on that status, we are entitled to conduct discovery on the facts that they claim support their special status," he said.
Majestro said it was improper for WVFL to have brought the proceeding to court when it did.
"If there were truly an emergency, they could have and should have challenged prior to 30 days before an election," he said.
In its complaint, West Virginians for Life seek declaratory judgments that the ban on corporate express advocacy is unconstitutional, that West Virginia's definitions of political committee, political action committee and unaffiliated PAC are unconstitutional, that West Virginia's reporting requirements for electioneering communications are unconstitutional and that limits West Virginia's express-advocacy definition and electioneering-communication definition.
A hearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston is scheduled for Oct. 14 in Charleston.
Secretary of State Betty Ireland and Mercer County Prosecutor Timothy Boggess are named as defendants in the complaint.
Shirley J. Stanton of Stanton Law Firm in Fairmont and James Bopp, Jr., Randy Elf and Kaylan Lytle Phillips of Bopp, Colson & Bostrom in Terre Haute, Ind., are attorneys for West Virginians for Life.
U.S. District Court case number: 1:08-1133