Politico fact-checks misleading third party advertisements attacking Gardner

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Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of fact-checking articles on competitive Senate races from our partners at FactCheck.org.

Colorado’s Senate race pits Democratic freshman Sen. Mark Udall against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who is in his second term in the House.

The advertising battle has largely focused on women’s issues, including birth control and abortion. As a late September Denver Post article noted, if the race were a movie, “the set would be a gynecologist’s office.”

The focus is at least partly due to an anti-abortion “personhood” initiative that’s once again on the ballot in Colorado after having been defeated twice previously. Gardner announced in March that he no longer supported the state measure, because it could, as opponents have said, lead to a ban on some forms of birth control. Ever since, the Udall campaign has released ad after ad on the issue, and Gardner kept the birth-control theme going when he called for the sale of birth control pills over-the-counter without a prescription.

Beyond confusing, and misleading, contraception claims, we’ve fact-checked third-party ads attacking Udall on the Affordable Care Act and energy. Here are our findings so far in this toss-up race:

Claim: Gardner embarked on an “eight-year crusade that would ban birth control.”

Facts: Gardner supported anti-abortion measures that don’t explicitly call for a ban on birth control but could lead to some forms of birth control being illegal.

The claim, made in numerous ads by the Udall campaign, refers to Gardner’s support for past personhood initiatives in Colorado, which defined a person as “any human being from the moment of fertilization,” or the “beginning of the biological development.” Gardner supported these measures in 2008 and 2010 and said on a 2006 questionnaire for Colorado Right to Life that he would support a federal personhood bill.

A personhood measure is again on the ballot in Colorado this November. However, Gardner has withdrawn his support, saying that he now agrees that the personhood measure “can ban common forms of contraception.” He remains, though, a co-sponsor of the federal Life at Conception Act, which similarly defines “human person” from the “moment of fertilization.”

These measures don’t explicitly ban common birth control methods. Some hormonal forms of birth control, including the pill and intrauterine devices, prevent ovulation but can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. That’s why these personhood measures — which say the rights afforded to a person would begin at the moment of fertilization — could lead to a ban on those forms of birth control, a matter that would likely be decided by the courts. In a 2012 statement opposing personhood amendments, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said “oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and other forms of FDA-approved hormonal contraceptives could be banned in states that adopt ‘personhood’ measures.”

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