At a political debate on Thursday night, a GOP candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives left the room laughing after he struggled to answer a question on his position on reproductive rights. Rep. Mike Coffman (R), who’s running for re-election in Colorado’s 6th congressional district, needed help from the crowd to remember what “birth control” is called.
After Coffman was asked to clarify how his views on women’s health differ from his Democratic challenger’s, he declared that he’s “pro-life,” started to mention Hobby Lobby, but couldn’t quite string together a full sentence. When he trailed off, attendees stepped in to remind him that the recent Supreme Court case was about contraception:
MODERATOR: What do you see as the differences between you and Andrew when it comes to women’s reproductive rights and health care?
COFFMAN: I’m pro-life….I’m proud of that. I do not support personhood, but I support a woman’s access to, um…certainly, to…this Hobby Lobby decision to…um…
CROWD: Birth control. [Laughter]
COFFMAN: Birth control!
Reporters covering the event noted on Twitter that it was unclear exactly what Coffman was trying to say, and they weren’t sure whether he meant to express his support or opposition to the Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed some for-profit companies to drop coverage for forms of birth control they object to on religious grounds. After the debate, Coffman’s spokesperson clarified that the candidate supports the Supreme Court’s ruling, but also supports maintaining women’s access to contraception.
Republican politicians have been struggling to find their footing after the Hobby Lobby ruling, which sparked widespread outrage from supporters of reproductive rights. The majority of female voters say they won’t back candidates who favor the craft company’s right to drop contraceptive coverage.
Hoping to capitalize on that disapproval, Democrats have strongly condemned their GOP colleagues for supporting Hobby Lobby and have vowed to turn birth control into an election issue. Meanwhile, Republicans have attempted to reassure the public that they don’t actually want to limit women’s access to health services. GOP leadership put forth a bill in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby that reaffirms women’s legal right to buy birth control, something that simply reinforces the status quo and doesn’t actually accomplish anything in practice.
Colorado, where abortion opponents have repeatedly introduced “personhood” measures to outlaw all abortions and some forms of birth control, has become a battleground for these types of wars over women’s health. Cory Gardner, the state’s GOP candidate for Senate, has tried hard to distance himself from personhood, which he used to support. Earlier this summer, Gardner claimed he wants to be a Republican who “breaks the mold” on the party line stance on contraception, and came out in support of making the pill available over the counter.