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Harder’s abortion stance, seen in 2017 video, becomes an issue in congressional campaign

Democratic congressional candidate Josh Harder agrees to abortion through the “full nine terms” of pregnancy

Democratic congressional candidate Josh Harder says agrees to abortion through the "full nine terms" of pregnancy at a July 2017 meeting of Our Revolution in Turlock, California.
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Democratic congressional candidate Josh Harder says agrees to abortion through the "full nine terms" of pregnancy at a July 2017 meeting of Our Revolution in Turlock, California.

Abortion, among the most divisive issues in American politics, suddenly is making waves in the hotly contested congressional race between Democratic challenger Josh Harder and Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.

More than a year ago, Harder told a small gathering in Turlock that he favors preserving women’s right to choose, and would work to have federal dollars pay for abortions.

The discussion with Our Revolution Turlock was captured on video. At one point a man asks, “So, pro-choice, full nine terms?” and Harder responds, “Yes.” The man pressed on: “No exceptions?” and Harder said, “No exceptions.”

It’s not clear whether the man meant to ask about nine months or full-term. Harder’s campaign issued a written statement Tuesday saying, “Josh misunderstood the question. He was simply pointing out the important distinction in this race, that Josh believes in a woman’s right to choose and Jeff Denham does not.”

While abortion has been legal in the United States since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, states impose various restrictions. California requires that minors seek parental consent; some other states have more restrictions including long wait periods and strict facility codes.

Only seven states allow late-term abortions without regard to gestational age: Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont. California does not.

“I would say that’s an extreme position,” said Bob Benedetti, a Sacramento State University research associate. “If that is his position — (abortion) up to the time of delivery — that goes further than any legal position I’ve heard. I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone state it like that.”

Pressed to confirm Harder’s current stance, his campaign issued a second statement: “Josh supports existing California law, which states that women have the right to get an abortion up to 24 weeks in consultation with their doctor. Josh only supports an abortion beyond this point if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, health or well-being, and believes that decision should be made between a woman and her doctor.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Tuesday interpreted Harder’s words as “clearly and emphatically endorsing late-term abortion up to the ninth month,” and posted a link to the video.

Denham first was elected to Congress in 2010. In a 2012 candidates’ forum, he said he believes in the sanctity of life. The National Right to Life Committee considers him to be 100 percent in its corner based on his voting record, which includes favoring the Hyde Amendment, a 1976 law preventing federal tax money from funding abortions.

In his July 2017 discussion before about 20 people with Our Revolution Turlock, a local progressive group, Harder said he would “absolutely sponsor legislation to overturn” the Hyde Amendment. A few minutes later, Harder said, “The fact is, no insurance provider is allowed to take federal dollars for abortions, and I think that’s wrong.”

Harder, a venture capitalist before his candidacy, teaches business at Modesto Junior College. Both candidates claim Turlock as their home base.

The 10th District, considered by many as socially conservative, covers Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County, including Ripon, Escalon, Manteca and Tracy. Voters here favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016, but Denham has had little trouble defending his seat over the years, and recent independent polls are inconclusive.

Denham, 51, has tried to cast Harder, 32, as aligned with Bay Area liberals, while Harder says the incumbent is inaccessible to regular folks and in lock-step with the national Republican establishment. The two will face off for the first time before Modesto Bee editors at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, an event that can be streamed live on The Bee’s Facebook page or replayed later.

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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