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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NARAL’s ‘Edgy’ Condom Ad in Colorado

A TV ad in the Colorado Senate race says Republican Rep. Cory Gardner wants to “ban birth control,” so “you better stock up on condoms.” In fact, Gardner supports making birth control pills available over-the-counter, and nothing he supports or has proposed would ban the sale of condoms.

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, the group behind a self-described “edgy” ad campaign, is referring to Gardner’s co-sponsorship of a federal bill, the Life at Conception Act, that could lead to a ban of some hormonal forms of birth control, including the pill and intrauterine devices, although that is a matter that would likely be settled in the courts. However, Gardner does not want to ban birth control, as the ad says, and the federal law would not lead to a ban on condoms, as the ad implies.

Doug Gordon, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, told us in an email: “We’re not saying he is banning condoms. We are saying if Gardner starts limiting other forms of birth control, you better stock up on condoms because there will be so much demand for them — since Gardner wants to ban other forms of birth control.”

A radio ad that’s part of the group’s ad campaign says exactly that. But that’s not what the group’s TV ad says or implies.

The ad campaign, which NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado says will cost $450,000 and run until Election Day, targets young voters, particularly young men. The TV ad attacks Gardner, who’s running against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, on two issues: climate change and birth control. There is a shorter Web version of the TV ad that is solely about birth control.

The TV ad shows a young man and woman in bed, with a few empty condom wrappers on the bedroom nightstand. The man reaches out from under the covers for a condom but can’t find one. The narrator says, “If Cory Gardner gets his way” — short pause — “you better stock up on condoms.” During the narrator’s pause, these words appear on the screen: “Gardner: Ban Birth Control.”

Gardner does not support and has not made any proposal that would “ban birth control.” He does, however, have a complicated and, frankly, confounding position on birth control — which we covered at length in an article called “A Fight Over Birth Control in Colorado” — and this ad campaign seeks to exploit that position.

The summary version: Gardner changed his position this year on the state “personhood” ballot initiative after years of supporting it in past elections. He said he changed his position precisely because he now understands that it could ban some common forms of birth control. “The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position,” he told the Denver Post in March. He also has taken the position this election that birth control pills should be available over-the-counter.

However, Gardner is a co-sponsor of the federal Life at Conception Act, which supporters in Congress describe as a “personhood” measure. We don’t see that there is any practical difference between the state initiative and the federal bill in terms of the language that prompts concerns over a potential ban on some forms of birth control.

Medically — and in terms of federal regulations — a pregnancy has been defined as beginning at implantation, and both the state ballot measure and the federal bill would define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Opponents of these measures argue that they could well lead to a ban on hormonal forms of birth control, such as the pill and intrauterine devices, or IUDs. And some anti-abortion rights groups also oppose these contraception methods.

Gardner insists there is a difference between the state and federal efforts — going so far as to say that there is no such thing as a federal personhood bill, even though other sponsors have described it as such.

It is fair for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado to take issue with Gardner’s continued support of the federal bill, and the possible implications of it. But it’s simply inaccurate for the group’s TV ad to say Gardner would “ban birth control.” At best, the group could say that the federal bill, which he supports, could lead to a ban on some forms of birth control. It’s also inaccurate to imply that the “ban” would cover condoms — which would not be affected if the federal bill became law.

As for climate change, the TV ad says that Gardner “denies climate change.” That’s not exactly his position. Gardner has said he believes climate change is real, but he has expressed some doubt about how much of it is the result of human behavior.

In a Denver Post article on the Oct. 7 debate, Gardner was quoted as saying: “Yes, the climate is changing, I’ve said that all along. I disagree to the extent that man is causing it.” That was the second of back-to-back debates in the Colorado Senate race. Politico, which covered the Oct. 6 debate, wrote that Gardner expressed his support in that debate for “trying to reduce carbon emissions, but he said it cannot be done in a way that kills jobs.”

“There is no doubt that pollution contributes to the climate changing around us,” Gardner was quoted as saying in the Politico article.

— Eugene Kiely