Gardner again downplays support for federal personhood legislation

Politics

Colorado Sen.-elect Cory Gardner.

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DENVER — In Tuesday night’s Denver Post debate, GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner sought once more to downplay his continued support for the federal Life at Conception Act, which nearly everyone but Gardner agrees is tantamount to the Colorado personhood measure Gardner disavowed earlier this year.

“The federal act that you are referring to is simply a statement that I believe in life,” Gardner said when asked about the Life Begins at Conception Act by the Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels.

When Udall repeatedly went back to the issue, Gardner stuck to script, repeating his line that his co-sponsorship of the measure is “simply a statement that I support life.”

Gardner also attempted to separate the House Life at Conception Act, which he signed on as a co-sponsor to last summer, from the nearly identical Senate version, which he claimed not to have seen, and dismissed the notion, pushed by Udall’s campaign, that the legislation could result in banning some forms of birth control.

“Gardner’s campaign says he backed the proposals as a means to ban abortion, not contraception,” Factcheck.org reported in August.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, the author of the senate version, believes it goes even further, explaining in this appeal for financial contributions to pro-life voters that the Life at Conception Act “by legally defining that life begins at conception, — would simply bring the legal definition of “life” in line with the biological definition… in effect overturning Roe v. Wade. ”

There’s actually audio of Paul’s four-minute message explaining what the Life at Conception Act could do.

Factcheck.org correctly notes that the actual impact of the legislation, if it were ever passed and signed into law, would be up to the courts.

“But just because Congress ‘declares’ something doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court is obliged to agree,” the website writes.

The House and Senate Life at Conception Acts, which are virtually identical, could threaten some common forms of birth control, as Udall and Democrats have pointed out — just as it could provide a new legal challenge to overturn Roe v. Wade, as National Right to Life and Paul promise it would — but that would all depend on the courts.

And Gardner’s latest assertion, that the law is only a mere statement of his and other supporters’ belief in life, could turn out to be true but only if a court were to rule that it has no actual impact.

More from Factcheck.org, which notes the incongruity of Gardner’s split stance on the statewide and federal personhood measures:

As we reported in our Aug. 15 article, “A Fight Over Birth Control in Colorado,” Gardner himself says he has changed his mind and no longer supports the Colorado “personhood” initiative, precisely because it could threaten the legality of common forms of birth control. But the federal bill he still supports contains the same language. And the nonpartisan American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that defining a fertilized egg as a person with legal rights “would have wide-reaching harmful implications … on women’s access to contraception.”)

Interestingly, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza follows up on his profile of Paul last week with a new blog post expanding on the senator’s support of the legislation, drawing heavily on his former medical partner, Dr. John Downing, “an ardent Paul supporter”, who, Lizza writes, viewed Paul’s support of the Life at Conception Act as “political madness.”

Here are Lizza’s key paragraphs:

Downing said that he believed Paul’s personhood law would make some common forms of birth control illegal, and thus doom Paul’s Presidential hopes. “He’s going to lose half or more of women immediately once they find out what that would do to birth control,” Downing told me.

Downing’s concern was that common forms of emergency contraception—Plan B, Ella, and others—which are sold over the counter, as well as intrauterine devices (I.U.D.s), a common form of birth control, could be banned if the Life at Conception Act became law. Echoing the views of many opponents of personhood laws, Downing argued that these birth-control methods prevented a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus and so, under Paul’s proposal, could instantly be reclassified as weapons of murder.

Paul, Lizza notes, raised eyebrows last week when saying that he has no problem with women using Plan B, which immediately drew a rebuke from those pro-lifers who view the so-called “morning after pill” as an abortifacient.

Lizza circles back to the political ramifications for Paul, a top tier 2016 presidential prospect at this point, and to some of the top 2014 Republican candidates, referencing Gardner specifically, quoting Paul’s former partner using language almost identical to Udall’s oft-repeated line that politicians should just “butt out” of women’s personal reproductive health decisions.

He writes:

“I think we damn well better stay out of the way of women and birth control,” Downing told me. “The Democrats are going to kill the Republicans. There’s no way that Republicans can win no matter what they say about it, and they just better shut up. That is a woman’s issue and men don’t have any business telling women what to do with their bodies.”

Some Republicans have heeded that advice, if not consistently. Colorado’s Republican Senate candidate, Rep. Cory Gardner, recently dropped his support for a state-level personhood initiative that’s on his state’s ballot this year. “The past four years as I’ve learned more about it, I’ve come to the conclusion it can ban common forms of contraception,” Gardner told the Associated Press, in March. (Inexplicably, Gardner continues to support a federal version of the law.)

Inexplicably, indeed.

Gardner had a difficult time trying to explain his disavowal of the statewide personhood measure and his ongoing support for the Life at Conception Act, stating four times in an interview with FOX31 Denver last month, “There is no federal personhood bill.”

Gardner has fairly criticized Udall for focusing his campaign so much on social issues, a strategy that has been a proven winner for Colorado Democrats in recent years however stale it may seem to observant voters — the Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels even referred to the incumbent as “Mark Uterus” during Tuesday night’s debate.

But it would be all the more stale and difficult to stick to Gardner were it not for the Republican’s own fateful decision to only reverse course on personhood halfway, a decision that has thus far dominated the campaign and still has the potential to define its outcome.

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