UPDATE #3: Rep. Diana DeGette fires back at Gardner in a new Denver Post op-ed:
In 2006, Gardner offered an amendment in the Colorado statehouse to prohibit emergency contraception birth control pills under the state Medicaid program. A year later, he was one of only nine members of the statehouse to oppose emergency contraception birth control pills for sexual assault victims. In 2010, Gardner voted against a bill that required insurance policies that cover complications of pregnancy and childbirth to also provide coverage for contraception, including "the pill."
Since he came to the U.S. Congress in 2011, Gardner has repeatedly voted to restrict employees' access to insurance coverage for birth control if their employer objects. Among the first pieces of legislation he co-sponsored was a bill to do just this, and a year later, he signed a letter with other Republican congressmen urging the Department of Health and Human Services to reverse a rule that guaranteed contraceptive access to women as part of basic health insurance coverage. Despite these objections, there is now a requirement that says most insurance plans must cover birth control, including "the pill."
Last September, Gardner joined his Republican colleagues in demanding that the contraceptive coverage guarantee be overturned, and Gardner and others attempted to make this demand a bargaining chip during last fall's federal government shutdown…
Given this record, as a woman and an elected official, I am offended that someone would put forward a proposal that transparently contradicts long-held positions. [Pols emphasis]
UPDATE #2: MSNBC's Steve Benen:
Yes, one of Congress' most conservative members on the issue of reproductive rights is now, a long-time culture warrior who's spent much of his career on the far-right side on the issue – in 2011, Gardner even tried to redefine "rape" in order limit federal funds for abortion coverage – is all of a sudden a liberal when it comes to access to the pill.
The chutzpah necessary to even try a move like this is simply breathtaking.
"This is really getting ridiculous," said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. "As a state legislator, Cory Gardner voted against the Birth Control Protection Act. Gardner even voted against a bill to allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception. He voted to strip contraception funding from the state Medicaid program. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood, which serves women in rural Colorado. He opposed covering contraception as part of preventive health care without a co-pay. Today, he decided the best way to cover women's health is to insult the intelligence of every voter in Colorado."
UPDATE: Think Progress:
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.”
As FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner is plowing ahead with his audacious campaign to reinvent himself on issues of importance to women voters, the latest move being a Denver Post op-ed published yesterday in which Gardner endorses making oral contraception available over the counter:
Gardner responded Thursday with an Op-Ed in the Denver Post charging Udall and Washington Democrats with using women’s health issues as a wedge to divide voters and offered his idea: allowing women to buy birth control pills over the counter without getting a prescription from a doctor, something he says can save families time and money…
Gardner’s well-written Op-Ed is smart politics but it did not include any promise to sponsor legislation or take other action to spur the Food and Drug Administration to re-classify birth control pills to be available over the counter.
And it opened the floodgates for Udall’s campaign and Democrat-leaning organizations to stay on their favorite subject, to remind voters about Gardner’s past votes, including a 2007 vote as a state lawmaker against requiring hospitals to inform survivors of a sexual assault of the availability of emergency contraception. [Pols emphasis] The bill exempted health care professionals who objected on religious grounds and would not require a hospital to provide emergency contraception to a survivor not at risk of becoming pregnant.
Much like Gardner's original sort-of reversal on the Personhood abortion ban, where Gardner disavowed his prior support for the Colorado statewide ballot initiative while remaining to this day a sponsor of equivalent federal legislation, or Gardner's less-publicized but equally important reversals on such issues as gay adoption and immigration, the response from Democrats has been, in a word, incredulous.
“Congressman Gardner has a disturbing record of supporting radical measures to limit, and even outlaw, women’s access to contraception. His flailing efforts to remake his image serve as an admission that his extreme beliefs and reckless agenda are out-of-step with mainstream Colorado values,” said State Rep. Angela Williams in a statement blasted out by Udall’s campaign.
“Cory Gardner is trying to re-write history and erase his record on women’s access to contraception,” [Pols emphasis] said Karen Middleton, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. “He voted against contraceptive access time and time again in Colorado. In Congress, he’s still a co-sponsor of the Personhood bill, which would outlaw many forms of contraception.
“Colorado women know the truth. We can’t trust Cory Gardner to stand with us and protect out rights on contraception and reproductive health.”
The stakes in this fight to define Gardner for voters couldn't be higher: in 2010, then-GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck narrowly lost his challenge to appointed Sen. Michael Bennet, in a race where women voters were so much the decisive factor that it's been a point of study ever since for political scientists across the nation. Gardner came into this race with a heavy load of baggage on reproductive choice, principally because all of his prior campaigns have been for safe Republican seats.
Gardner's solution to this problem may too go down in history, especially in the event it is successful. Gardner's strategy to drop his long-established hard line positions on abortion like a hot brick, hoping to neutralize the issue before the general public tunes back in to politics this fall, is without hyperbole one of the most audacious political gambits we have seen in our years covering politics. Gardner is not just flip-flopping, he is trying to cast himself as the enemy of his former self on issues he knows are losers with the statewide electorate. It goes well beyond "politics as usual," and that point is critical for Democrats to drive home in the coming weeks.
As the AP's Nicholas Riccardi reports, another important factor to consider is that Republicans know exactly what's going on–and, desperate for a victory in a marquee statewide race after years of losing, they don't care how it looks.
Katy Atkinson, a Republican political consultant in Denver, said Gardner’s strategy is clear.
“He doesn’t have to convince them he’s the No. 1, best person on” reproductive rights, she said. “He just has to muddy it up enough to take it away from Udall.” [Pols emphasis]
The task for Democrats today is to set aside their apoplexy and hammer away at every attempt Gardner makes to reinvent his image–on abortion, gay rights, and everything else that's coming. They need to aggressively call out brazen acknowledgements like Katy Atkinson's that it's all just a contrivance to win the election. The fact is, this is not going well at all for Gardner, and with every attempt to turn over a new leaf being accompanied by broadsides of negative press, there is a very plausible chance of this ending in a major political disaster–for Gardner, and for Republicans in Colorado generally.
Either that, or bullshit wins the day like never before, setting a truly unsettling precedent.