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Some Democrats aren't afraid of the A-word

As candidates in midterm elections draw contrasts, fewer euphemisms for abortion rights.
Mark Udall
Sen. Mark Udall, (D-CO) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 9, 2014.

What makes this Colorado ad in a tight Senate race so unusual? The A-word. 

"No one can blame you for checking a calendar, to remind yourself, yeah, it really is 2014," says Sen. Mark Udall in a new 30-second television spot. Udall, a first term Democrat seeking re-election, is being challenged by Republican Rep. Cory Gardner and polls show a close contest.

"So how is it we're still debating a woman's access to abortion or birth control?" Udall says. "For most of us, those debates got settled by the last generation. Yet today there are still politicians like Congressman Gardner promoting harsh anti-abortion bills and a bill to ban birth control. I'm Mark Udall. Those rights and freedoms are yours, and we won't let anyone take us backwards, and that's why I approved this message." 

What's the big deal? For context, President Barack Obama last year became the first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood, which provides a range of services to women but is most targeted by conservatives for providing safe and legal abortions. Obama repeatedly mentioned the threat to the "right to choose," but never once named what might be chosen. And he had already won his last election.  

Related: Immigration reformers make their stand in Colorado

It's no secret that a major prong of Democrats' strategy for keeping control of the Senate this year is mobilizing female voters. That has meant explicit pleas on equal pay, minimum wage, and anti-violence legislation as well as reproductive rights. These days, Democrats can also cast a spotlight on GOP attacks on contraceptive access -- from family planning funding cuts to Supreme Court-sanctioned attacks on insurance coverage to pay for contraception. Two states, including Colorado, are considering "personhood" amendments that would confer rights to fertilized eggs and fetuses.

But of course, most vulnerable of all when it comes to women's health care is abortion. And that's a word that, thanks to enduring stigma even among liberals, is still often a taboo topic on the campaign trail. 

Udall's ad came on the same day as a New York Times piece arguing that Republicans are running away from campaigning on what are still called the "culture wars" while Democrats are triumphantly running towards them. That is indeed a reversal that is manifestly taking place, but in an apparent "both sides are doing it," attempt, there is one stumble: the claim that "Democrats are making adjustments, too, speaking less about abortion and more about a broader range of 'women’s health' issues."

In fact, that has the trend backwards: Democrats have long used "women's health" or "right to choose" as a euphemism. But late last year, running explicitly against abortion restrictions helped land Democrat Terry McAuliffe the Virginia governor's mansion.

Udall, along with a handful of others, including Alaska incumbent Democrat Senator Mark Begich, is demonstrating that times have changed, at least in some places. A politician saying what he means, even when it's politically controversial? Times do change.