Representatives of two abortion rights groups submitted a petition with some 87,000 signatures Tuesday, urging an investigation of a judge who told a 16-year-old state ward seeking to terminate her pregnancy that having an abortion would “kill the child inside you.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America and RH Reality Check filed the petition with the Nebraska Commission on Judicial Qualifications, urging an investigation into what they said was anti-abortion bias in the case by Douglas County District Court Judge Peter Bataillon. The groups filed a formal complaint with the commission earlier. Bataillon has declined to discuss the complaint.
Bataillon was once chairman of Metro Right to Life. Before being appointed to the bench, he represented anti-abortion protesters from Operation Rescue who had been accused of trespassing and stalking.
"The bias he put on display (in the recent case) struck a nerve for so many folks around the country," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "People want to know they can get a fair hearing, and that the judges keep their personal feelings out of the courtroom.
"We’re hopeful that the Commission on Judicial Qualifications takes a close look at Bataillon’s conduct and disciplines him for failing to recuse himself.”
Nebraska law requires minors to get written, notarized parental consent for abortions. They can bypass the provision in medical emergencies, if they are victims of abuse or neglect or if they can prove to a judge they are mature and well-informed enough to make the decision themselves.
In a ruling earlier this month, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld Bataillon's ruling rejecting the 16-year-old's request to waive the required parental consent. Bataillon said the girl had not shown she was sufficiently mature and well-informed enough to decide on her own whether to have an abortion.
The girl was living in a foster home when a juvenile court terminated the rights of her biological parents because of abuse and neglect. In the hearing before Bataillon, the girl said she was 10 weeks pregnant and would not be able to support a child. She said her foster parents had strong religious beliefs and she feared she would lose her foster home placement if they learned of her pregnancy.
Bataillon said that for the purpose of her case, the foster parents would serve as her guardians -- even though, under Nebraska law, the Department of Health and Human Services is considered the guardian of wards. The girl's lawyer said Bataillon failed to recognize the exception for abuse in Nebraska's parental consent law. She also said Bataillon should have recused himself because he was not impartial, as evidenced by his asking the girl if she knew that, "when you have the abortion, it's going to kill the child inside you."
The high court agreed with Bataillon that the girl had failed to show she was mature enough to decide about having an abortion and had not shown she was a victim of abuse. The court did not consider the girl's argument that Bataillon should have recused himself from the case, because she did not ask him to do so, nor did she question his impartiality at trial.
In a dissent, Justice William Connolly said the girl has no legal parents, and, therefore, didn't have the option of seeking parental consent. That, he said, means the lower court lacked jurisdiction in the case and left her in "a legal limbo -- a quandary of the Legislature's making." He also suggested that Nebraska's parental consent law is open to a constitutional challenge by state wards.
In promoting the online petition, NARAL Pro-Choice America and RH Reality Check said: "If you agree that Judge Bataillon sounds like he's still reliving his days of defending Operation Rescue activists against stalking charges or can't forget the time he spent as president of his local Right To Life organization, sign the petition now demanding a review of his qualifications for office."