Two Anti-Choice Candidates in Colorado Rescind Support for ‘Personhood’

Days after Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who's hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, dropped his longstanding support of the amendment, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who also had long supported the measure, backed off it as well.

Days after Rep. Cory Gardner (left), who's hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, dropped his longstanding support of the amendment, Rep. Mike Coffman (right), who also had long supported the measure, backed off it as well. CongressmanCoffman, Congressman Gardner / YouTube

Two Republican candidates running for Colorado’s most hotly contested congressional seats have withdrawn their support for a “personhood” amendment, which would ban all abortion and give legal rights to fertilized human eggs, also called zygotes.

Political strategists, like former Colorado GOP chair Dick Wadhams, have warned that candidates who embrace “personhood” cannot win state-wide elections in the state.

In 2010, for example, Republican senatorial candidate Ken Buck’s anti-choice stance was widely seen as a key factor in his close loss to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

Buck withdrew his support for personhood during his senate campaign, but this didn’t stop Democrats from attacking his position on choice issues throughout the campaign.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who’s aiming to unseat Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) in November, told the Denver Post on Friday that, despite his longstanding support of personhood, he now believes the measure is a “bad idea driven by good intentions.”

Rep. Mike Coffman was more circumspect in his disavowal of personhood, only bringing it up Wednesday after his opponent, Democrat Andrew Romanoff, called on Coffman to renounce his support for personhood.

Coffman’s spokesperson told the Post he would not support a personhood-backed measure on this year’s election ballot, but this year’s measure, which would redefine the definition of “child” in the Colorado criminal code, isn’t as broad as previous personhood measures, depending on how it would be interpreted by the courts.

A Coffman spokesman later told KDVR-TV in Denver that Colorado voters have twice defeated personhood initiatives, which were “over-broad and full of unintended consequences,” and the matter is now settled.

In the past, Coffman has strongly supported not only the “personhood” amendment itself, but also key elements of it, like a ban on abortion even in the cases of rape and incest.

Once, after an interview on a Denver talk show, Coffman sent a letter to the radio host to make sure he’d been clear about his opposition to abortion with no exceptions.

Unlike Coffman, who’s stood behind his anti-abortion positions throughout his political career, Gardner has shifted his position on abortion issues over the years, though he’s always been opposed to choice.

Before being elected to Congress four years ago, Gardner promised activists at a tea-party candidate forum that he’d introduce legislation to ban abortion.

But soon after winning the GOP primary and beginning his campaign against Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey, Gardner reversed himself and promised journalists at the Ft. Collins Coloradoan that he wouldn’t introduce anti-abortion legislation, despite promising to do so at a tea-party candidate forum.

The Coloradoan posted audio of a meeting between Gardner and Coloradoan editors in 2010:

Coloradoan Editorial Page Editor Kathleen Duff: You say you’re not running on social issues, so you’re not, for instance, planning any legislation.

Gardner: Correct.

Duff: And you haven’t crafted anything.

Gardner: [laughs] Correct. No. No.

Coloradoan Executive Editor Bob Moore: Although I’ve been at Tea Party events where you were at where you were specifically asked if you would introduce legislation on abortion, and you did say yes.

Gardner: Bob, I don’t recall that.

Moore: Yeah. At one, you even mentioned some legislation you had already introduced in the state legislature, too.

Gardner: I don’t recall that.

Moore: I can go back and dig it out. [He did. He posted the audio here.]

Gardner: Be that as it may, I am running to balance the budget…

After this exchange, Moore spotlighted Gardner’s flip-flop in an article headlined, “Despite tea party pledge, Gardner says he won’t carry abortion bill.”

Later, after Gardner beat Markey and went to Congress, the Coloradoan’s Moore, who’s since left the newspaper, reported that Gardner broke his promise not to introduce anti-abortion legislation.

Moore reported February 4, 2011:

During the 2010 campaign, Gardner sought to downplay abortion and other social issues, though he readily described himself as pro-life.

In a September meeting with the Coloradoan editorial board, Gardner said he wouldn’t introduce any legislation on social issues.

“I am running to balance the budget, cut spending and get this economy back on track,” he said.

Since being sworn in a month ago, Gardner has co-sponsored two abortion-related bills – [Rep. Chis] Smith’s bill to further restrict federal funding for abortion, and a bill aimed at Planned Parenthood that would bar federal family planning grants to any organization that performs abortions.

Smith’s bill, co-sponsored by Gardner, aimed to save federal money by not allowing those funds to be spent on abortion for “rape” but only for “forcible rape.” After an outcry, Smith’s proposed redefinition of “rape” was dropped.

Last year, Gardner went further, with his co-sponsorship of federal personhood legislation, called the “Life at Conception Act,” which would ban all abortion, even for rape.

Now that he’s rescinded his support for personhood, Gardner has yet to clarify what his new abortion stance is, whether, for example, he supports an abortion ban, Roe v. Wade, or another policy.

An unusual chorus of personhood backers and pro-choice activists denounced Gardner’s announcement as a failed attempt to shine up his image for Colorado voters, particularly women, who are seen as critical swing voters.