DENVER (AP) -- Under fire from Democrats for his stance on reproductive issues, Rep. Cory Gardner on Thursday proposed letting women buy birth control pills without a prescription.
The Colorado Republican's proposal came as his opponent in November, Democratic Sen Mark Udall, aired his second television ad accusing Gardner of wanting to ban birth control because he supported measures to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs.
Gardner has disavowed at least one of those initiatives but still been hammered on the issue in a state where a small segment of moderate women determine most elections.
"The least loved institution in America today is the U.S. Senate, and one of the reasons it is reviled is a zero-sum approach to women's medical care," Gardner wrote in an Op-Ed piece that appeared online in The Denver Post. "It's time we changed that and adopt modern policies that make sense instead of using women's medical issues as an election-year power play."
He said the pill is clearly safe enough for the federal government to permit it to be purchased over the counter and blamed "an obscure provision of Obamacare" for preventing that from happening.
Democrats and their allies swiftly hit back, noting that Gardner, who opposes abortion rights, voted against requiring hospitals to inform rape victims of the availability of emergency contraception and backed legislation allowing employers to deny birth control coverage to their workers.
"We don't trust him because, in the past, he has so consistently not supported access," said Cathy Alderman of Colorado Planned Parenthood's political arm, which launched a web ad Thursday criticizing Gardner on reproductive issues. "We don't have any faith that he would follow through on the things he's said."
Democrats have won every top-of-the-ticket race in Colorado over the past decade partly by painting their Republican opponents as too extreme on reproductive issues. About 100,000 independent or moderate Republican women voters in suburban Denver usually make the difference in a state that is evenly divided in registration between Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Katy Atkinson, a Republican political consultant in Denver, said Gardner's strategy is clear. "He doesn't have to convince them he's the No. 1, best person on" reproductive rights, she said. "He just has to muddy it up enough to take it away from Udall."
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