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DENVER — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall is out with his campaign’s first TV ad of the campaign, which highlights differences between the Democrat and his opponent, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, on women’s health issues.

The 30-second spot, titled “Respect”, claims that Udall trusts women to make their own health care choices, and blasts Gardner for a “history promoting harsh anti-abortion laws.”

“For generations, brave American women have fought to secure the right to make their own health care decisions based on what they believe is right for themselves and their families,” said Udall in a statement from his campaign.

“It astounds me that some still think the legality of birth control and access to reproductive health services should be subject to debate. I’ll never stop fighting to protect the rights of Colorado women because I trust them and respect the choices they make.”

Gardner’s campaign responded quickly, attacking Udall for going negative and alleging that the ad distorts Gardner’s record.

“After nearly two decades in Washington, Senator Udall has decided to launch his reelection campaign with a negative, misleading attack ad because he has no record of accomplishments,” Gardner campaign manager Chris Hansen said in a statement. “While Coloradans sound the call for new leadership, Senator Udall continues to lie about Cory Gardner’s record while distorting his own.

“If Senator Udall trusts and respects women, and all Coloradans for that matter, then he should not have lied to them about keeping their healthcare plans and doctors.”

At the heart of the ad is Gardner’s sponsorship of a 2007 proposal to make abortion a felony even in cases of rape or incest.

When he was a state lawmaker, Gardner signed onto Senate Bill 143 as a co-sponsor — he did not carry the bill himself, his campaign points out.

The measure would have outlawed all abortions with the exception of cases that is “designed to protect the death of a pregnant mother, if the physician makes reasonable medical efforts under the circumstances to preserve both the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child in a manner consistent with conventional medical practice.”

Gardner’s campaign pushes back: “the bill only prohibited the performing of an abortion (with an exception for life of the mother). It specifically exempted women from prosecution: ‘A pregnant mother upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted shall not be guilty of violating this section’.”

The Udall ad also alleges, “Gardner championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control.”

That claim is based largely on Gardner’s past support for personhood, which he recently disavowed after strongly supporting ballot measures in 2008 and 2010 that aimed to define a fertilized egg as a person, thereby outlawing abortion and even threatening some forms of birth control.

When he announced last month he no longer supports personhood, Gardner explained that he only recently became aware of the impact on birth control (even though Ken Buck used the same explanation — and drew plenty of attention to the actual implications of personhood — toward the end of his own Senate race in 2010).

Gardner’s campaign emphasized that point again Tuesday in response to Udall’s claim.

“At the time, Cory was not aware that the amendment, if adopted, had the potential to ban some forms of birth control,” said Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano. “He has never supported restricting access to birth control and recently announced that he had reconsidered his support of the personhood amendment for that reason.

“In a testament to Cory’s long-standing support for access to common forms of contraception, the 2007 abortion bill Udall attacked Cory for included this provision: ‘Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the sale, use, prescription, or administration of a contraceptive measure, device, drug, or chemical, if it is administered prior to the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing…’

“It is difficult to believe that Cory was on a “crusade” to outlaw birth control at the same time he was supporting legislative language to protect it. He will continue to support women’s access to contraception.”

Udall’s campaign also pointed to Gardner’s opposition to 2009’s Birth Control Protection Act, which codified “contraception or a contraceptive device as a
medically acceptable drug, device, or procedure used to prevent pregnancy.”

Additionally, Gardner was a sponsor of the Life Begins at Conception Act last year, which would establish personhood in federal law.

Udall’s campaign Tuesday underlined its point with another press release highlighting that former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who ran in 2012 on a strong anti-abortion, anti-gay rights platform, has just endorsed Gardner’s Senate campaign.

Santorum’s PAC, Patriots Voices, was “founded in part to push the extreme anti-choice personhood” constitutional amendment,” according to Udall’s campaign.