In his first debate against his Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) couldn’t recall the phrase “birth control,” leading pro-choice activists to assert, once again, that Coffman can’t be trusted on women’s health issues.
During the debate Thursday, the two candidates, battling in one of the most competitive U.S. House races in the country, were asked by moderator Aaron Harber to talk about their differences on “women’s reproductive rights and healthcare.”
Coffman started his response by saying he’s “proud” of being “pro-life.” Then he said, “I do not support personhood, but I support a woman’s access to, to, um, certainly, certainly, to, ah, the Hobby Lobby decision, to, uh, to get –“
Murmurs began to be heard from the audience.
“Birth control!” shouted Coffman, throwing his head into his arms on the table and thrusting the microphone at Romanoff, who said he neither supported the Hobby Lobby decision nor “personhood.”
A spokesman for Coffman clarified Coffman’s garbled answer, telling Denver’s KDVR-TV that Coffman supports the recent Hobby Lobby decision as well as access to birth control.
Shortly after the debate, the Romanoff campaign shot off an email with the subject line, “Watch it Yourself” and a link to Coffman’s brain freeze.
“If you weren’t among the hundreds who packed into the Hilton Garden Inn in Highlands Ranch this morning,” read the Romanoff email, “you missed a revealing exchange.
“In the first debate of this campaign, Andrew reaffirmed his support for women’s rights, including our right to make our own health-care decisions. Mike Coffman, in contrast—well, watch it for yourself.”
Coffman’s pro-choice critics used Coffman’s lapse to spotlight the Congressman’s anti-choice positions, which have been a favorite target for Coffman’s opponents this year.
“Not only does Mike Coffman not know how to say birth control, he doesn’t know how to support access to it, either,” said Karen Middleton of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado in a statement blasted out to reporters immediately after the Coffman-Romanoff debate.
“Mike Coffman can’t have it both ways,” said Middleton. “You can’t back the Hobby Lobby decision to put bosses in between women and their doctors and attempt to say you support birth control access for Colorado women too.”
In March, Coffman rescinded his longstanding support for Colorado’s failed “personhood” amendments, which would have banned all abortion, even for rape. He recently toured a stem-cell research lab, which relies on embryonic stem cells, despite his previous opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.
Coffman’s new positions, which have drawn repeated fire from Romanoff, came after Coffman’s congressional district, previously represented by Republican Tom Tancredo, was re-drawn in 2010, changing from safe Republican to competitive. President Barack Obama carried the district by five points in 2012, and women are widely seen as a key voting bloc.
Nonetheless, Coffman, who previously served in the Colorado legislature and as Colorado’s treasurer and secretary of state, won re-election in 2012 by two percentage points over staunchly pro-choice Joe Miklosi.