The recent murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado has led to some observers to question the role extreme anti-abortion rhetoric may have played in the tragedy.
On Nov. 28, Robert Lewis Dear allegedly killed three and wounded nine during a six-hour altercation at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. According to various media reports, Dear had been the subject of multiple criminal complaints, some of which included violence against women, dating back to at least 1997. He reportedly lived in isolation in the Carolinas until a recent move to Colorado.
During the shootings, Ke’Arre Marcell Stewart, an army veteran, Jennifer Markovsky, a stay-at-home mom, and Garrett Swasey, a police officer with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, were killed, Several media outlets reported that Dear made comments about “no more baby parts” to police after his arrest.
Dear was likely referring to a series of “sting” videos released over the summer by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress. The videos were deceptively edited to make it appear that Planned Parenthood staffers were illegally selling fetal tissue.
Right-wing media outlets spread these false charges, and they were quickly picked up by politicians eager to score points with the Religious Right. Congress held a round of show hearings on the matter, amid demands that Planned Parenthood be stripped of all federal funding. (The organization uses the support to provide cancer screenings, pap smears and other services to low-income clients. None of the money can be used to fund abortions.)
Several Republican presidential candidates piled on. Carly Fiorina asserted several times that the videos showed a botched abortion that resulted in a live birth, and that Planned Parenthood staffers plotted to kill the child and harvest its brain.
Even with the deceptive editing, the videos show no such thing. This was pointed out to Fiorina several times, yet she continued to tell the story. After the murders, she refused to back down and told Fox News Sunday that “the left” was “demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message.”
Several other GOP presidential candidates offered perfunctory denunciations of violence, but then quickly moved on to more attacks on Planned Parenthood.
Critics, including Americans United Communications Director Rob Boston, have said that the heated rhetoric of the far right is partly to blame for creating an environment in which people like Dear are motivated to violently attack Planned Parenthood.
“The anti-abortion zealots, their political allies and the right-wing media figures who spread these lies about Planned Parenthood – the lies that very likely whipped an unstable man into a state of violent frenzy – need to engage in self-reflection and then offer an apology to the nation,” Boston wrote in a “Wall of Separation” blog post.