EDGEWATER, Colo. (AP) — An anti-abortion proposal to ban the procedure in all circumstances isn't on Colorado ballots this year — but the divisive measure is still playing a big role in the state's political campaigns.
Democrats in two of Colorado's hottest congressional races, both in the Denver suburbs, are tying the GOP candidates to a so-called "personhood" measure defeated by voters in 2010 and 2008.
The debate underscores how social issues continue to come up in this year's campaigns, even as candidates and their supporters insist that the economy is the No. 1 priority in voters' minds.
The personhood measure may not be on ballots this year, but you wouldn't know it from a recent campaign event by pink-shirted women opposed to Republican Joe Coors, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter.
The abortion ban was the first item brought up by Miriam Pena, head of the Colorado Progressive Coalition. Pena pointed out that while Coors has backtracked from the measure he has supported with campaign donations, the abortion ban should still influence whether women vote for him. Coors contributed $1,000 to the initiative in 2010, and $100 in 2008.
"Can we really trust a politician who's going to flip-flop on such an important issue?" Pena asked.
Before the personhood measure failed to make ballots, Coors said he would not support it. Perlmutter's campaign said there's a good reason for that.
"He knows that a majority of people in this district and this state don't support it," said Perlmutter spokeswoman Leslie Oliver. But she added, "He can't run away from it."
Oliver said that improving the nation's economy remains the top concern for Perlmutter, but that women's reproductive rights are an important issue that Congress can affect.
"The bottom line is, it may not be on the Colorado ballot, but it is on the Republican agenda in Congress," she said.
Coors' spokeswoman Michelle Yi accused the Perlmutter campaign of ducking a conversation on the economy.
"You can't help but wonder what Rep. Perlmutter believes are the urgent topics facing Coloradans today when he's making an issue out of something that's not even on the ballot," she said.
Yi said Coors' stance on abortion is not as extreme as his opponents portray it.
"Joe's a pro-life candidate, and he doesn't believe in the federal funding of abortion, but he believes in the exceptions of rape, incest and life of the mother," she said.
The personhood measure is also playing out in a congressional district just south and east of Denver, where Democrat Joe Miklosi is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.
In one Miklosi ad, a young woman says Coffman "supports the 'personhood' law, which limits access to birth control." Then the ad cuts to an older woman, who adds, "... and outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest." The ad doesn't mention that the personhood measure isn't on ballots.
Miklosi and Coffman sparred over the abortion ban in person at one of their televised debates. Coffman insisted the social questions like abortion rights aren't his focus. Miklosi accused him of trying to run from his record.
"That's your focus," Coffman said of the abortion measure. "That's not reflective of the issues and concerns of this district."
The back-and-forth over abortion rights in Colorado campaigns mirror the national political landscape where the topic continues to come up, including a recent comment from an Indiana Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who said that pregnancies originating in a rape were "something that God intended."
Republican activists insist that in Colorado, the abortion and personhood strategy will no longer work for Democrats.
"When I hear them call these candidates extreme, I think, 'They need a new copywriter.' They're old and stale," said Debbie Brown, head of the Colorado Women's Alliance, a right-leaning women's advocacy group in Denver's southern suburbs. "We're seeing tactics used to scare women. It's not on the ballot."
Advocates on the left insist personhood is worth talking about because it sheds light more broadly on how Republican candidates view women. Joanne Schwartz, head of the left-leaning ProgressNow Colorado, said personhood underscores a "larger issue" of GOP approaches to women's health.
"A shocking number of (primarily white, older, men) Republican elected leaders are sending the message that they don't trust women to make the right decisions about their bodies and their families," Schwartz wrote in an email.
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