News Politics

Reproductive Health Remains a Contentious Topic in Colorado Senate Debate

Jason Salzman

Questioned by debate moderators, Rep. Cory Gardner falsely stated that federal "personhood" legislation is “simply a statement of belief,” and Sen. Mark Udall said he wouldn't ban later abortions.

Reproductive health issues, as they have throughout Colorado’s heated senatorial race, played a prominent role Tuesday in a debate between Sen. Mark Udall and his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner.

Gardner shifted slightly from stating incorrectly, as he’s done in three recent interviews, that “there is no federal personhood bill.” Instead, he said the legislation is “simply a statement that I support life.”

In the opening question of the hour-long debate sponsored by the Denver Post, the paper’s politics editor, Chuck Plunkett, questioned Gardner on whether he’d ban later abortions and, if so, at what week.

Udall said “there are situations where late-term abortions are found to be necessary,” and women should be left “to make decisions that are best for her and her family.”

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Asked by Post political reporter Lynn Bartels to explain the “policy difference between the “Life at Conception Act” that you are cosponsoring and the state personhood ballot measures that you now say you were wrong to support because they ban certain forms of birth control,” Gardner said:

Well, I do not support the personhood amendment. I have said that Sen. [Mark] Udall has said that a good-faith change of position should be considered a virtue and not a vice. The federal act which you are referring to is simply a statement that I support life. Now, Sen. Udall, you just said you have a Colorado compass. But maybe you ought to try getting GPS because your Colorado compass is leading this state down the wrong path.

Gardner’s campaign told Factcheck.org in August that Gardner backed the bill as a means to ban abortion; this was the only substantive explanation by Gardner or his campaign for the candidate’s 2013 co-sponsorship of the “Life at Conception Act.” But Gardner has yet to state this himself, and the campaign appears not to have made this assertion again.

Multiple fact checkers have determined that the “Life at Conception Act” is, in fact, “personhood” legislation with the same potential consequences, if passed, as state personhood amendments. These consequences include a ban on abortion and some forms of birth control.

Yet, when asked during Tuesday’s debate about his position on birth control, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and Plan B, Gardner said, “It’s simply outrageous to believe that someone would try to ban birth control. It’s simply outrageous.”

About IUDs and Plan B specifically, Gardner said, “Those are legal and nothing is going to change that.”

During his political career, Gardner has opposed some forms of contraception, including Plan B.

Udall returned to the federal “personhood” legislation during a portion of the debate in which the candidates asked each other questions directly.

“I’m just curious what would happen if that were to become the law of the land,” Udall asked Gardner, “because you clearly believe this is something we ought to implement given your long record and your long history of supporting this initiative.”

“That bill is a statement that I support life,” said Gardner, repeating what he’d said earlier.

Gardner took the opportunity to bring up his proposal for over-the-counter sales of contraception, an idea he’s been promoting in ads.

“And I believe that we ought to expand access for women’s health, including the opportunity to allow contraception to be sold over the counter, without a prescription, the opportunity to change Obamacare to allow it to be reimbursed by insurance,” Gardner said. “That’s what I believe.”

Udall followed up by asking Gardner if he’d co-sponsor the Senate version of the “Life at Conception Act,” if Gardner were elected.

“Again, the bill in the House is a statement that I support life,” replied Gardner. “I have not seen the bill in the Senate. Believe it or not, not everybody in the House reads bills in the Senate that have only been introduced and not heard by committee.”

The Senate version of the “Life at Conception Act” is almost identical to the House version, and it was introduced and promoted by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The Udall-Gardner contest is widely seen as a toss-up and as a race that could determine if Democrats lose or retain control of the U.S. Senate.

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