Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner is joining those within his party who are using inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about abortions that happen later in pregnancy, often referred to by conservatives as “late-term abortions.”

Responding to a pro-choice constituent who raised concerns about his support for the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” Gardner thanked her for contacting him “regarding medical care for children born alive during failed abortions” and said, “I am a proud cosponsor of this legislation and believe that every child born alive should get appropriate medical treatment.”

Courtesy of Janet Baumann

“Rest assured, I will continue to support pro-life measures when they come before the United States Senate for a vote,” he added.

The bill would have put requirements in place regarding the care of infants born after failed abortions and sent doctors to prison if they failed to comply. Opponents of the legislation say that it’s unnecessary given that there are already protections in place in the extremely unlikely scenario that an infant is born after a failed abortion (see: homicide laws), and that it’s an effort to paint an unrealistic and gruesome picture of abortions that happen later in pregnancy.

More than 90 percent of abortions performed in the United States occur before 13 weeks gestation, while abortions performed after 21 weeks gestation make up about one percent, according to the CDC. But in drawing attention to the small number of abortions that occur later in pregnancy, conservatives are demonizing the procedure as a whole, advocates say.

“A fetus quote unquote born alive that wouldn’t receive medical care is essentially an event that never happens,” said Dr. Rebecca Cohen, a Denver-area OBGYN, in an interview with the Colorado Times Recorder. “They’re taking this event that is essentially imaginary, presenting it as normal, and using it as a way to limit access to abortion.”

“They’re just putting these horrific images in people’s minds of things that don’t happen,” she added.

Cohen explained that even with advancements in ultrasound technology, many severe fetal anomalies that threaten the health of the fetus or the mother can’t be detected until late in pregnancy.

“These are people who don’t provide abortion care and don’t understand the circumstances that later abortions occur under, and don’t understand the incredible pain that they are causing to women in these difficult circumstances,” said Cohen. “A healthy woman and a healthy pregnancy is not going to be seeking and is not going to be offered an abortion that late in pregnancy.”

The bill failed to pass a vote in the Senate earlier this year, but Republicans in the House of Representatives have more recently been attempting to bypass Democratic leadership and bring the bill to a vote using a discharge petition. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to get the 218 signatures needed to file the petition and bring the bill to a vote.

Republicans, with the help of President Trump, have recently been escalating rhetoric around the small percentage of abortions that occur later in pregnancy, often claiming that pregnancies can be terminated “up until the moment of birth.”

Trump, in a Tweet following the bill’s failure, went so far as to claim without any evidence that “The Democrat position on abortion is now so extreme that they don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth.”

“I think it’s becoming more of an issue because it’s something that’s really difficult to think about and really difficult to defend because to address it directly requires abortion providers to address something that doesn’t happen,” said Cohen. “We’re fighting this boogeyman.”

Janet Baumann, who received the letter from Gardner, posted it to Twitter earlier this month and said, “I cannot wait to knock doors for someone who believes in actual science and medicine.”

“To see Sen. Gardner sending emails from his U.S. Senate account using taxpayer funds with wildly inaccurate, blatantly dishonest misinformation makes me so angry,” she later told the Colorado Times Recorder. “He would rather court the support of a dangerous and dishonest fringe group than represent his constituents like me who write him about policy issues.”

Baumann serves on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado.

Gardner has long been hostile to abortion rights despite downplaying the issue and attempting to appear softer in his stance on reproductive rights during his successful 2014 Senate campaign against Sen. Mark Udall, who focused heavily on Gardner’s anti-choice record.

Since elected to federal office, Gardner has voted ten times to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Last year, he voted in favor of a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation.

Gardner is widely considered to be the most vulnerable Senate Republican going into the 2020 election. And, according to a poll released this moring, Gardner is the least popular Republican Senator with his home base, with only 49 percent of Republican voters in his state approving and 28 percent disapproving.