Senate Candidate Reverses Years-Long Opposition To Contraception, Suddenly Supports Birth Control

CREDIT: AP Photo/Chris Schneider

Colorado Republican Congressman Cory Gardner

Most American women want birth control pills to be available over the counter, without the need to get a prescription from a doctor. And according to an op-ed in the Denver Post, they have an unexpected new ally who shares that opinion: Cory Gardner, a Republican lawmaker from Colorado who’s running for U.S. Senate.

“Since ‘the pill’ was first approved 44 years ago, it’s been one of the most proven and tested pharmaceuticals of our time. It is safe, reliable, effective, and presents very few risks or complications for the more than 10 million women who use it,” Gardner writes in an opinion piece that was published on Thursday afternoon. “When other drugs have that kind of track record, we approve them for purchase without a prescription.”

The GOP Senate candidate goes on to note that “too many Democrats prefer to attack Republicans on the issue of contraception rather than actually make contraception more available and affordable, and too many Republicans are afraid to break the mold,” and encourages both parties to work together to achieve real progress in this area.

But Gardner himself doesn’t exactly have a legislative record of working to “break the mold” on the GOP’s stance on birth control.

Back in 2006, Gardner voted against a proposal to allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception, an important step in eliminating the need for a prescription for that type of birth control. In 2008, he voted against a measure that would have required insurance companies to cover contraception “in the same manner as any other sickness, injury, disease, or condition.” He also opposed a bill to expand birth control coverage for low-income women who rely on Medicaid, as well as a bill that would allow hospitals to inform rape victims about the morning after pill. More recently, he has lent his support to several “personhood” measures that would have outlawed all abortions and some forms of birth control.

Now, he appears to be trying to soften his stance. Three weeks after Gardner announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, he came out in opposition to personhood efforts. “The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position. I’ve learned to listen. I don’t get everything right the first time,” he said at the time. Planned Parenthood Votes, a super PAC affiliated with the national women’s health organization, has accused Gardner of attempting to “whitewash” his past positions on reproductive health, pointing out that he still co-sponsors personhood initiatives on the national level. Gardner’s op-ed was published on the same day that the group released an ad criticizing his history on personhood.

Planned Parenthood isn’t impressed with Gardner’s new call for over-the-counter birth control, either. “If Cory Gardner thinks he can delete his long record of restricting women’s access to health care with one op-ed, he clearly doesn’t respect the intelligence of Colorado women,” the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Votes, Dawn Laguens, said in a statement, adding that the GOP candidate has “spent his career trying to deny women access to birth control.”

Gardner’s issues with personhood reflect a larger divide within the anti-choice community. Abortion opponents don’t necessarily agree about their best legislative tactic — whether it’s better to advance an incremental strategy to gradually make it more difficult to access an abortion, or whether it’s necessary to take a bold stance to ban all abortions altogether. Republican candidates in Colorado have been distancing themselves from personhood for the past several years, and state-level anti-choice groups are starting to splinter over frustrations that politicians aren’t committed enough to banning abortion.

Republican candidates are currently working to rebrand their party’s “war on women” image, hoping to avoid another election where the GOP loses female voters by wide margins. At the same time, however, Republicans have doubled down on their anti-abortion messaging on the national level — and Planned Parenthood’s action fund launched its largest campaign offensive ever, hoping to make it harder for candidates like Gardner to say their positions on the issues have evolved.