Iowa Group Threatens Recall Campaign Against Judge In Abortion Rights Case

The Iowa Religious Right group that successfully campaigned to unseat three state supreme court justices who ruled in favor of marriage equality has set its sights on a new target: a judge who granted a stay in an influential abortion rights case.

The Family Leader, run by prominent conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats, gained national attention in 2010 when it ran a successful campaign, with plenty of funding from national Religious Right groups, to oust three state supreme court justices in retention elections after the court ruled unanimously to legalize marriage equality in the state. The group tried its luck against another justice last year, but the tide had turned enough that the judge held on to his seat.

Now, the group is taking aim at a District Judge Karen Romano, who ruled this week that Planned Parenthood could continue to use video conferencing to guide women through early-term abortions using abortion-inducing drugs – drugs that are widely considered safe to take at home during the early weeks of a pregnancy – while a ban on the practice is appealed. Planned Parenthood had challenged a ruling by the Iowa Board of Medicine banning telemedicine for chemical abortion,  but for no other medical practice. Judge Romano did not rule on the merits of the case.

Vander Plaats’ group issued a statement yesterday claiming that Judge Romano had “not learned a lesson” from the 2010 election and urged voters to remember the judge’s “activism” in her 2016 retention election.

The Family Leader’s Chuck Hurley told the Des Moines Register that his group is “open” to a recall campaign against Romano but hasn’t decided yet whether to go beyond the barely-veiled threats in its press release. Hurley did take the opportunity, however, to allege that Romano was biased because she was appointed by former Gov. Tom Vilsack who “notoriously and admittedly an activist who selects judges who support his liberal viewpoints.”

Romano said Wednesday afternoon that she was not shocked by the Family Leader’s statement.

“I think in the current climate, it doesn’t really surprise me,” she said in a brief interview.

She added, “I understand that the issue the case deals with is a volatile issue.” She said she couldn’t comment any further.

Chuck Hurley, the Family Leader’s vice president, said Wednesday that the group hasn’t decided whether to mount a recall campaign against Romano. “We are definitely discussing it and are open to it,” he said.

He added that he didn’t know much about Romano’s personal views, but he knows she was appointed in 2001 by former Gov. Tom Vilsack. Hurley said Vilsack, a Democrat, was “notoriously and admittedly an activist who selects judges who support his liberal viewpoints.”

UPDATE: The president of the Iowa State Bar Association has denounced Vander Plaats' move, calling it "political bullying," and the Des Moines Register spoke out against his "not-so-subtle" threat to Romano in an editorial

UPDATE 2: After telling the Register that his group would be "open" to launching a recall campaing against Romano, Hurley followed up with the paper and "clarified" that he in fact meant "we are not launching a campaign against Judge Romano nor do we have any plans to do so at this time. We were simply pointing out that it was this kind of judicial activism by Iowa judges that led to Iowans voting out three Iowa Supreme Court judges in 2010.” 

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The Family Leader