Two Republican congressional candidates in Colorado, facing a barrage of attacks from Democratic opponents for their anti-choice positions, are fighting back with advertisements casting themselves as supporters of women’s issues.
“It’s nice to know someone has our back,” states a woman in an ad aired by Rep. Mike Coffman, who’s battling Democrat Andrew Romanoff in one of the most competitive House races in the country.
The spot highlights Coffman’s 2013 legislation to stop sexual assault in the U.S. military and his bill 20 years ago—introduced when he was a Colorado state legislator—to halt insurance companies from charging women more than men.
“What’s the difference between me and Mark Udall on contraception?” asks Gardner in his advertisement. “I believe the pill ought to be available over-the-counter, around the clock, without a prescription, cheaper and easier for you.”
The camera pans to the faces of women nodding and smiling, and, at the end, breaking out into applause.
Echoing objections from the Romanoff campaign about Coffman’s ad and anti-choice record, Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign pounced on the Gardner spot, blasting out background material, as it’s done before, highlighting Gardner’s record of opposing all abortion and restricting access to contraception.
“Congressman Gardner will do anything to hide his backwards agenda from Colorado women,” Udall for Colorado spokesperson Kristin Lynch said in a statement. “The undeniable fact is Gardner continues to push radical, anti-woman measures that would ban common forms of birth control. One 30-second ad doesn’t make up for that.”
But will the Coffman and Gardner ads sway Colorado women, who are considered a decisive voting bloc in this race?
“It was a forced decision to run those ads,” Colorado College political science professor Robert D. Loevy told RH Reality Check. “The initial advice is always, don’t run on your opponent’s issue. But the Udall ads are running day after day after day, and absolutely everyone has seen them. The [Coffman and Gardner] ads are signs that the Democrats’ ads are so damaging that they had to break the rule and respond.”
“I think it’s the right decision, but it shows they are in a very difficult position,” Loevy continued. “It’s a problem Republicans have. When you run in the primary, you have to take these [anti-abortion] stands, but they come back to haunt you. And the Democrats know it.”
Earlier this year, in a move widely seen as an effort to win over swing-voting women, both Gardner and Coffman withdrew their support for Colorado’s “personhood” amendments, which would have banned all abortion, with no exceptions, and could have restricted access to birth control.
Both candidates say they support access to birth control, reflecting the view of nine out of ten Republicans who say birth control is “morally acceptable,” according to 2012 national poll.
After Coffman aired his ad and said he supports birth-control access, Fox 31 Denver’s Eli Stokols asked Coffman why he opposed Obamacare, which provides access to birth control without a copay. Coffman replied, “There’s a difference between supporting access to birth control and tax-payer subsidies required of employers. I certainly support access to birth control, but I also support individual responsibility.”
Coffman has not embraced Gardner’s specific proposal for over-the-counter sales of the pill. The idea was slammed by pro-choice groups after Gardner’s ad aired.
“If Cory Gardner and others were serious about expanding access to birth control, they wouldn’t be trying to repeal the no-copay birth control benefit, reduce Title X funding for birth control, or cut women off from Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “This is simply a cynical political attempt to whitewash his terrible record and agenda for women’s health. The reality is that Cory Gardner’s proposal would actually cost women more by forcing them to pay out of pocket for the birth control that they are getting now at no cost thanks to the Affordable Care Act.”
“Cory Gardner is still sponsoring a federal bill that would ban many forms of birth control, including the ones that just reduced the unintended pregnancy rate for at-risk Colorado teens,” said Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. “As an organization that has worked on Prevention First programs for years, the biggest barrier to preventing unintended pregnancy for women is cost. Cory Gardner still wants to ban birth control for many women, and his proposal could increase cost for the rest of us. This isn’t a solution, it’s a campaign ad trying to fool Colorado women about Gardner’s long record opposing birth control. Again.”