As the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 2022 midterms now have a laser focus on abortion. This time, we’ve got to get the conversation right.
But first, let’s remember what happens when we don’t.
In what now feels like ancient history, the 2014 U.S. Senate race was easily one of our state’s biggest blunders.
Of course, we all know that former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner defeated the Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall before voters promptly returned Gardner to Yuma in 2020. But in the interim, the miserable one-term wonder cost us six years of policy that was wholly out of line with the majority — including on abortion.
Among Gardner’s egregious actions were the votes to confirm not one, but several, anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, a vote for a judicial nominee that falsely believed abortion causes cancer, and years of support for former President Donald Trump’s anti-women crusade.
We’ll never know if a Udall victory alone could have prevented where we are today. Arguably, at least one of the justices voted for by Gardner was close enough, that replacing Gardner’s extremism with Udall’s resistance in the early years just might have made a difference.
Either way, it’s a huge mistake Coloradans can’t afford to make again.
But how did a state so strongly pro-choice get duped into electing a pro-lifer in the first place? Gardner held a long record of anti-abortion stances. He was openly pro-life, cosponsored at least one federal fetal personhood bill, and — prior to changing positions on birth control going into the race — continued not to support contraceptive coverage. Didn’t voters know what they’d be getting?
Gardner was good at deception, yes, but the overall anti-women messaging from others didn’t help. Many began openly mocking Udall for strongly supporting women’s rights — as if fighting for women’s issues is a laughable matter. This was seen across a range of communities, notably from local reporter Lynn Bartels, who chided Udall with the moniker Mark “Uterus” Udall at a candidate forum and even penned that his campaign could take place in a gynecologist’s office.
This refrain was picked up quickly. Legacy Democrats with deep pockets began to heckle Udall at events with even the briefest mention of women’s rights, strengthening the idea that women’s rights don’t matter. The Washington Post joined in, even after the campaign, amplifying the nickname nationally and etching a deeply destructive narrative for both Udall and women alike.
Then came the kiss of death; the media by and large dismissed a credible track record of Gardner as a pro-life candidate, calling him a moderate.
This was most notable when, just before the election, The Denver Post Editorial Board endorsed Gardner, minimizing the risk to women while blasting Udall for his “obnoxious one-issue campaign” — a deplorable and inaccurate take given that at least half of Udall’s core issues were objectively focused on topics other than abortion.
Still, in their essay, the board managed to completely blow off Gardner’s obvious track record of extreme positions, including anti-abortion stances. Their sexist message was clear: Fighting too loudly for women — even as a man — will cost you. And it did.
Five years later, The Denver Post Editorial Board admitted their endorsement of Gardner was a mistake, although it was not the original board that issued that position. But it was too late, the damage had already been done.
This election, we’ve got to get it right.
Starting now, voters must be able to easily access non-disparaging, in-depth news coverage of every candidate up and down ballot regarding their positions on abortion, regardless of the position they seek.
Coverage should include specific policy questions such as, “Do you support the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade?” “Do you support Colorado’s HB-1279 that affirmed access to contraceptives and abortion?” and, for pro-choice candidates, “Do you support ending the filibuster to codify Roe, or other efforts to enshrine rights to women?”
Then, the races should be framed in large part by this lens so voters clearly know what they’re getting. For example, although it’s not been the biggest focus to date, the race for governor is easily defined as a pro-choice candidate versus, most likely, a pro-life candidate.
Incumbent Gov. Jared Polis has been very clear in his stance to protect women’s rights, including signing House Bill 1279 into law. Republican candidates, however, have come out as strongly pro-life. One, Heidi Ganahl, has outright stated she’d like to ban abortion statewide and implied questions about abortion are “stupid.”
For now, we’ve mostly let Ganahl and others get away with this approach, not letting it define their candidacies. That’s got to stop — it should define them. Abortion views are a priority, especially as Roe v. Wade may be overturned, and it’s time we hold her and others fully accountable for their positions.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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