The Colorado Shooting and the Recent Rise in Anti-Abortion Violence

The Colorado Shooting and the Recent Rise in Anti-Abortion Violence

On Friday, November 27th Robert Lewis Dear, a 57-year-old white man, entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire. It took more than five hours for Dear to surrender to the police, and when he did, the police found nine injured, and three killed, including one police officer. The following night, The Washington Post reported that when discussing his motives for the shooting, Dear said, “no more baby parts”—a reference to the highly-edited videos released this summer by an anti-abortion group. The videos purported to show Planned Parenthood selling “baby parts” illegally. Though they were discredited, the videos energized the pro-life movement nonetheless.

Abortion providers have always been subject to threats and harassment, but observers agree there’s been an uptick in such provocation over the past several months. In September, the FBI released an Intelligence Assessment that reported an increase in the number of cyber attacks and incidents of arson on abortion clinics. The FBI predicted, “it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.” More serious attacks have indeed continued in the wake of the FBI report.

“The escalation has been alarming and frightening, to the extent of nothing I have seen in 20 years,” Vicki Saporta, the president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, told The Nation. Some critics have alleged that these incidents are mere anomalies, and do not represent any kind of systemic pattern within or inspired by the anti-abortion movement. In response, feminist activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns began tweeting a list of 100 violent attacks on abortion clinics over the past 40 years, with the hashtag #is100enough.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has been pushing the Obama administration to launch an investigation into these clinic attacks, and will be delivering a petition with more than 60,000 signatures this week to the Department of Justice.

The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic reopened the day after the attack. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, sent an email out that day declaring, “We will never, ever back away from providing safe, reliable care to the millions of patients who are counting on us to be there. These doors stay open, no matter what.” While she acknowledged concerns that anti-abortion extremists are “creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism” she made clear that Planned Parenthood’s commitment to providing care has not wavered.

When reports first emerged that there might be an attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, some conservatives tried to argue that the shooter was actually targeting a bank, and pro-choice activists were just being conspiratorial. As ThinkProgress reported, “Initially, when police officers were involved in a stand-off with Dear and information about the event was murky, early reports from Fox News quoted a witness who suggested that the first shots were fired from a bank. The anti-abortion website LifeNews picked up that story, spurring the bank robbery narrative.”

Anti-abortion groups have since moved to publicly distance themselves from the Colorado shootings, insisting that Deal’s attacks do not represent the values of their movement. But many pro-choice activists have argued that such rhetoric rings hollow, given the pro-life movement’s support for Planned Parenthood harassment.

It took Republican presidential candidates several days to condemn the attacks. However Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump still doubled down on Sunday with rhetoric that Planned Parenthood sells “baby parts.”

This week, Senate Republicans are expected to vote on a bill that includes a measure to defund Planned Parenthood. The bill is "fast-tracked"—meaning Republicans only need 51 votes, as opposed to the 60-vote hurdle Senate Democrats could have normally imposed. Democrats are expected to tie the upcoming vote to the recent Planned Parenthood shooting, and President Obama will surely veto the bill if it passes.

Pro-choice activists are mobilizing to fight back. Tonight, Reproaction, a reproductive rights group, will be holding a vigil outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., to honor the victims and to call “for an end to anti-abortion terrorism and harassment.”