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Steve Contorno
By Steve Contorno August 28, 2014

Democratic group claims Cory Gardner backs bill to 'ban all abortions'

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who’s running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, is finding his stance on abortion targeted by another Democratic attack ad.

We previously rated a Udall claim that Gardner "championed" an effort to ban birth control in Colorado as Half True.

The latest 30-second spot, aired by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, features a handful of women criticizing the Colorado Republican’s pro-life stance.

"Why do guys like Cory Gardner think it’s any of their business to tell women what do?" one woman asks.

Another calls Gardner’s positions "extreme," after a narrator says Gardner would "ban abortions even in cases of rape and incest."

Later, the narrator adds: "Gardner is sponsoring a bill to ban all abortions right now."

We decided to take a look at this last claim.

The DSCC points to H.R. 1091, known formally as the Life At Conception Act and informally as a "personhood" bill. Gardner is listed as a cosponsor on the bill.

The bill was introduced April 8, 2013, by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. According to the bill text, it would "implement equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person" and "declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being."

It goes on to say that "‘human person’ and ‘human being’ include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."

If this sounds confusing to you, that’s because it is. None of the above mentions abortion, even though it’s quite clearly an anti-abortion measure. In fact, the only part of the bill that seems to directly reference abortion only further muddies the waters: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child."

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It’s difficult to weigh the impact of such a perplexing bill. On the one hand, the bill doesn’t explicitly carve out exemptions for cases that involve rape or incest or instances when the woman’s life or health is in danger. On the other hand, the bill doesn’t explicitly mention abortion in the first place. This means that judicial interpretation will play a big role in how any such law is implemented.

But because no state has passed a personhood bill, courts have not established a track record about how they would interpret such a measure and how the measure would affect abortions.

By suggesting that a fetus has the "right to life," the bill challenges the Supreme Court’s past support for a constitutional right to abortion. An act of Congress cannot overrule the constitution, meaning the Supreme Court would have to change its past positions on abortion. That’s possible, but even if the bill is a vehicle to challenge Roe vs. Wade and subsequent decisions, it’s not clear that the outcome would "ban all abortions."

Glenn Cohen, codirector of the Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard University, said claiming that the personhood bill would ban all abortions "might be a bit strong." Depending on how courts rule, it might still be possible that exceptions could be made in cases where the mother’s life or health was at risk, he said.

"One could believe that fetuses are persons but still have those exceptions on a theory like self defense," Cohen said.

Further complicating matters is that Gardner is straddling both sides of the issue. He has publicly stated that he no longer supports the personhood movement because of its potential affect on some FDA-approved birth control -- yet he has not taken his name off the bill as a cosponsor.

Gardner’s campaign said his cosponsorship of the legislation is to "reflect his belief that life begins at conception." The campaign said Gardner is on record supporting exemptions for "rape, incest, and life of the mother," and the campaign disagrees that the personhood bill amounts to a ban on all abortion. The bill is not expected to come up for a vote.

Gardner is cosponsor of a different bill filed in 2013 that would take away federal funding for abortion providers except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or a physician certifies that the woman's life is in danger if she carries the baby to birth.

Our ruling

The DSCC said Gardner "is sponsoring a bill to ban all abortions right now."

The claim is based on Gardner’s cosponsorship of a bill that grants a fetus the same rights as a person from the moment of fertilization. It’s clear that such personhood bills are anti-abortion measures, but there’s a lot of uncertainty in the bill’s language that would have to be sorted through, over time, by the court system, and it’s not clear that it would ban all abortions.

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, "Right Now," Aug. 21, 2014

Email interview with Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Aug. 26, 2014

Email interview with Alex Siciliano, spokesman for Rep. Cory Gardner, Aug. 26, 2014

Email interview with Glenn Cohen, co-director of the Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard University, Aug. 26, 2014, H.R.1091 - Life at Conception Act, accessed Aug. 26, 2014, H.R.217 - Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, accessed Aug. 26, 2014

PolitiFact, "Mark Udall ad says Cory Gardner 'championed' Colorado fight to ban birth control," April 25, 2014

PolitiFact, "Obama ad says Romney opposed abortion, even in cases of rape and incest," July 25, 2014

PolitiFact, "Obama ties Romney and Ryan to abortion ban with no rape, incest exceptions," Sept. 19, 2012

PolitiFact, "Obama says Ryan supports banning all abortions," Aug. 17, 2014

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Democratic group claims Cory Gardner backs bill to 'ban all abortions'

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