Iowa Senate refuses to confirm two Branstad appointees

Democrats cite their 2013 votes against telemed abortion services

(File Photo) Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks Thursday, March 30, 2017, during a pro-life rally in the Capitol Rotund
(File Photo) Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks Thursday, March 30, 2017, during a pro-life rally in the Capitol Rotunda at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Two of Gov. Terry Branstad’s reappointments to the Iowa Board of Medicine were denied new terms Wednesday by 18 Democrats who withheld support over a 2013 board vote to ban the practice of using a webcam to remotely administer abortion-inducing pills to women in health clinics.

Senators voted 32-18 on the confirmations of Lake Mills Chairwoman Diane Clark and Iowa City Dr. Hamed Tewfik — which fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to win approval from the 50-member Senate. Both had been board members since 2011.

Majority Republicans were joined by Democratic Sens. Tod Bowman of Maquoketa and Kevin Kinney of Oxford and Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson in supporting the medical board members during a contentious floor debate that drew charges of politics from both parties.

“You’re taking down an immigrant,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, in advocating for Tewfik, who came from Greece, “an immigrant that loves Iowa, that loves the people of Iowa, that wants to serve and in your political estimation he made a wrong vote. He didn’t do what you wanted him to do so you’re taking him down.”

Tewfik and Clark were part of an 8-2 board decision that cited health and safety concerns in issuing a rule requiring physicians to personally perform a physical exam to dispense abortion-inducing drugs — and not use telemedicine.

Opponents, including Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, contended the board was limiting women’s access to a legal medical procedure by banning telemedicine abortion services at Iowa clinics. The group sued the board in 2013.

In a 6-0 opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that “after careful consideration, we hold that (the) rule ... places an undue burden on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy as defined by the United States Supreme Court in its federal constitutional precedents.”

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said the board vote was the basis for her opposition to reappointing the two.

“This is the Board of Medicine,” Petersen said. “This is not Gov. Branstad and Kim Reynold’s board that they politically stack with people who won’t back a woman’s constitutional right for a legal medical procedure.”

In a statement, Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes said that ““It’s really unfortunate that two highly qualified individuals, who volunteered their time to serving Iowans, are prohibited from serving another term on the Board of Medicine because Senate Democrats wish to play the worst kind of petty partisan politics.”

Feenstra called the Democratic response intolerant. “I’m tired of the Democrats thinking that, hey, you know what, we believe in tolerance, we accept everybody. Oh no. No, just your agenda,” he said.

Before Wednesday’s confirmation votes, which required a special resolution after majority Republicans failed to abide by an April 15 deadline, Branstad’s office withdrew the appointments of David Greenspon to the Iowa Finance Authority and Tom Conley to the Iowa State Civil Rights Commission at their requests, Hammes said.

Senators voted to confirm another nine Branstad appointees, including Iowa Lottery Authority Chief Executive Officer Terry Rich, Iowa Labor Commissioner Michael Mauro and Chuck Gipp as director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.