Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checker Politifact, operated by the Tampa Bay Times, has kept a close eye on ads in this year's U.S. Senate race in Colorado. Having reported in detail on Politifact's hammering of ads against Sen. Mark Udall as factually untrue, we'd be remiss if we didn't note their analysis of Udall's first ad against GOP opponent Cory Gardner, now playing widely–the most aggressive claim in which is rated "half true."
In 2006, Colorado Right to Life asked all politicians running for office if they supported the Right to Life Act in Congress, "recognizing that personhood begins at fertilization." Gardner, then a first-term state representative answered yes.
Udall’s campaign provided a television news story from March 17, 2008, that appears to briefly show Gardner in a room with several Republican colleagues signing on to the petition to put personhood on the Colorado ballot (around the 1-minute mark).
Gardner’s campaign did not respond to questions about his support of the 2008 referendum. His campaign did, however, acknowledge that Gardner supported the referendum efforts in 2010 at a candidate forum.
In a video clip from the forum, Gardner says he signed the petition and circulated it at his church. He also said the measure "backs up my support for life," but did not mention contraceptives or birth control.
News stories from Colorado papers in 2008 and 2010 mention the debate over contraceptives involved in personhood legislation. In fact, Ken Buck, the 2010 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, backed away from his previous support of the personhood referendum because he said it could impact some forms of birth control. So contraception was a live issue at the time.
But Cohen, the Harvard professor, told PolitiFact that "it is unclear that the Colorado 2008 and 2010 referendums were intended to ‘outlaw birth control in Colorado’ — that's what the word ‘crusade’ seems to imply. It is more clear that the language of those amendments might have outlawed some forms of birth control, whether that was the goal or not."
In other words, Gardner may have been in favor of the amendment, but for reasons other than curbing contraception.
This is the same ad that 9NEWS Truth Tested late last month, concluding this same assertion that Gardner "championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control here in Colorado" is "debatable." The debate over this question seems to hinge on whether a ban on certain forms of so-called "abortifacient" birth control was the intention of proponents. In some cases, it demonstrably was the intention, but a reasonable person might give the benefit of the doubt and allow for the possibility that it was not in all cases.
The problem is, by 2010 when Gardner backed Amendment 62 in a televised debate, and even helped circulate petitions, the consequence–either intended or unintended–of banning some forms of birth control was common knowledge. This had been the principal argument against "Personhood" two years before. This means that even if banning birth control was not Gardner's purpose in supporting Personhood, he cannot escape responsibility for those consequences. He either supported that outcome, or viewed it as acceptable collateral damage.
Do the full facts of this make the Udall's campaign's claim that Gardner "championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control" debatable? Yes. Reasonable people can debate the full extent of that. But there's certainly enough of an argument on Udall's side to have that debate–and no amount of time spent debating this is helpful to Cory Gardner.