DENVER (AP) — Republican Rep. Cory Gardner says he will no longer support measures that grant a fertilized egg the same legal protections as a person, triggering attacks on Monday from Democrats who say he is making the election-year switch because of his challenge to Sen. Mark Udall.
A ballot measure to grant fertilized eggs the same legal rights as human beings has been repeatedly rejected in Colorado, most recently by a 70-30 percent margin in 2010. Gardner, like most Republicans who must navigate a primary to win the GOP nomination here, had embraced it in prior statehouse and congressional campaigns, saying he even handed out petitions for it at his church. During the past two years in Congress, Gardner co-sponsored similar legislation, titled "the Life Begins at Conception Act."
But in an interview with The Denver Post last week, Gardner said he's changed his mind on the issue because he now fears critics' complaints that the measures would outlaw not just abortion, but most types of birth control, are correct.
"The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position," Gardner told the Post. "I've learned to listen. I don't get everything right the first time."
Gardner's campaign said he was not immediately available for further comment on Monday. The congressman still opposes abortion. His change came less than a week after his last major opponent in the GOP Senate primary dropped out, making Gardner the prohibitive favorite to win his party's nomination.
Udall's campaign and its allies have hammered Gardner since Friday for the switch, saying it is plainly political.
"Once again, Congressman Gardner is trying to run from his long record of turning his back on Colorado women," Udall's campaign said in a statement Monday.
Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said Gardner's "2014 flip-flop doesn't change the fact that he doesn't believe women have the right to make their own private decisions about their health care, without government interference. Colorado women still can't trust Cory Gardner."
Katy Atkinson, a Republican consultant in Denver, said Democrats were following a playbook that has served them well in Colorado over the past decade.
"What Democrats have done is define Republicans as so outside the mainstream they're scary. The question is whether that is going to work" against Gardner, Atkinson said.