U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) addresses guests at a Democratic Party election night event at the Westin Denver Downtown Hotel on Nov. 4, 2014, in Denver. Udall was defeated by challenger U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Back in October of 2014, I was in the audience of what was then the Denver Post building auditorium for a debate between U.S. Senate candidates Democrat Mark Udall and Republican Cory Gardner. The debate was going relatively well for Udall, the incumbent, because once Gardner got beyond the bubble of Fox News and Republican fundraisers his grins and platitudes resonated as the voids they were.
And then Denver Post reporter and moderator Lynn Bartels, who had also written an article with the lead, “If Colorado’s U.S. Senate race were a movie, the set would be a gynecologist’s office,” said this to preface a question: “Your campaign has been so focused on women’s issues you’ve been dubbed Mark Uterus.”
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You can hear the giggles in the background on the video, which I can only guess was what Bartels was after, along with the attention once the national media picked it up. The Washington Post’s “The Fix” wrote about it with the headline, “Mark Udall has been dubbed ‘Mark Uterus’ on the campaign trail. That’s a problem.” which of course meant the Beltway political press adopted it and had a good laugh. It was all jeering about the Colorado Senate candidate who talked about lady parts, the scion of one of the West’s leading political families goofily talking about Roe v. Wade and the threat to the constitutional right to abortion.
And then the Denver Post Editorial Board (or, more accurately, publisher Dean Singleton) decided to endorse Gardner, in an editorial that will live in infamy:
If Gardner had been a cultural warrior throughout his career, we would hesitate to support him, because we strongly disagree with him on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. But in fact he has emphasized economic and energy issues (and was, for example, an early supporter among Republicans of renewable energy).
For that matter, his past views on same-sex marriage are becoming irrelevant now that the Supreme Court has let appeals court rulings stand and marriage equality appears unstoppable. And contrary to Udall’s tedious refrain, Gardner’s election would pose no threat to abortion rights.
Between “Mark Uterus” and the editorial, the damage was done. Abortion wasn’t a real issue, just something for silly ladies and overheated campaign rhetoric from an unserious candidate. Gardner won by the slimmest of margins, less than two points, in a Republican wave year.
Flash forward to 2022. “Mark Uterus” is not a joke any more. It’s not funny. It really never was. The Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade in a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, thanks to Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, all of whom Gardner, who lost in 2020, confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional under Roe, but the justices Gardner confirmed have found ingenious ways to let it remain anyway.
Additionally, conservatives on the Supreme Court have let the Texas vigilante six-week abortion ban, Senate Bill 8, remain in place for going on six months. Pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional under Roe, but the justices Gardner confirmed have found ingenious ways to let it remain anyway, much to the righteous anger of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
And the harm SB 8 is causing is heart wrenchingly real. Planned Parenthood filed a friend of the court brief during the SB 8 legal appeals, detailing the effect on patients. Among them were a teenager molested by her father turned down for an abortion in Oklahoma because her guardian didn’t have sufficient paperwork, and a pregnant 12-year-old girl holding her mother’s hand pleading, “Mommy, it was an accident. Why are they making me keep it?”
Also not coincidentally, and a direct repudiation of Dean Singleton’s nonsense, Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case recognizing LGBTQ marriage equality, may very well be next in line if Roe falls. Former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, the architect of the Texas abortion ban, filed a friend of the court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health arguing that both Obergefell and Lawrence v. Hodges, the 2003 case that decriminalized sodomy, are “as lawless as Roe.”
To their credit, the current Denver Post editorial board rescinded the Gardner endorsement, and endorsed pro-abortion rights Democrat John Hickenlooper in the 2020 Senate race. And while that is certainly helpful, the fact remains that 50 years of the constitutional right to abortion may very well end in part because “Mark Uterus” made for a cutesy, catchy, headline-grabbing political nickname.
So where does Mark Udall go for his apology — along with all of us about to lose our right to control our own body?
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