WATERLOO | As conservatives met in Ames on Saturday to defend their anti-abortion bona fides at the Family Leadership Summit, Democrats in Iowa’s 1st District are trying to prove their pro-abortion rights credentials.

Both 1st District Democratic contenders Monica Vernon of Cedar Rapids and Gary Kroeger of Waterloo identify as pro-abortion rights, as does potential contender Pat Murphy who was the Democrats’ nominee in 2014.

But Emily’s List, an organization with a mission of electing pro-choice Democratic women to office, has endorsed Vernon in the primary and called into question Murphy’s support for abortions rights.

“Pat Murphy cannot be trusted to stand up for women and families across Iowa -- just look at his long record of trying to restrict women’s access to health care and put politics in the middle of decisions that should be left between women and their doctors,” Emily’s List press secretary Rachel Thomas said in a statement.

Thomas added the organization “is prepared to hold Pat Murphy accountable for his anti-woman and anti-family record if he chooses to enter the race."

Murphy, who said he will announce soon whether he will run again, strikes back at that characterization of his record. Murphy served in the Iowa House for 25 years as a representative for Dubuque.

“I’ve had a very strong record when I was speaker of the House of protecting women’s rights,” Murphy said Friday. “We expanded stem-cell research. We expanded family planning services and we also passed legislation that required school districts to teach age-appropriate sex education, and those were all three things that women’s groups wanted.”

The criticism of Murphy's record comes as he released a poll last week showing he would lead Vernon by 9 percentage points in a hypothetical three-way primary, even though both are relatively well known in the 1st District. Kroeger had 12 percent support in the poll.

Murphy said he has had a strong record on abortion rights for the past “12 or 13 years” he was in the Legislature.

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That distinction is likely what raises concerns for Emily’s List, as Murphy earned accolades among the Democrats for Life organization in 2004 and had a stronger anti-abortion voting record prior to the past “12 or 13 years.” He earned a 100 percent rating from the Iowa Right to Life Committee for his positions in 2003-2004.

A 2005 article in a conservative online publication noted positively Murphy had helped to recruit and elect pro-life Democrats. Murphy most recently described himself as “pro-life” in 2007 when he took the helm as Iowa House speaker.

Since then, however, Murphy has more often earned the ire of conservative publications for his pro-abortion rights stances on issues.

“I voted against the restrictions on telemedicine in the House last year, in fact, I spoke against it as well, and I think if you talk to Planned Parenthood they would say I’ve got a very strong record on women’s issues,” Murphy said.

Murphy, in fact, earned the endorsement of Planned Parenthood Action Fund in his bid for Congress in 2014. NARAL Pro-Choice America Political Action Committee also supported Murphy’s bid in the general election.

He also listed himself as pro-choice on his website in his 2014 bid for Congress.

Murphy’s long record in the Iowa House means his stances are easier to scrutinize.

While Vernon has served on the Cedar Rapids City Council for two terms, abortion is rarely debated in municipal elections. Kroeger is making his first bid for elected office.

Both Vernon and Kroeger state unequivocally their support for abortion rights.

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