The victims of the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado this weekend had not even been buried yet, but that didn’t stop the Washington Post from publishing a load of tripe downplaying abortion violence and failing to connect it to anti-choicers’ continuous demonization of the organization. Neither did the Post require the piece’s author, Jon A. Shields, to mention that he is connected to the very person behind the videos claiming that Planned Parenthood sells “baby parts”—a phrase the alleged gunman, Robert Lewis Dear, used with investigators after his arrest.
In an article initially titled “Why the Planned Parenthood shooting could actually reflect a historical decline in abortion-related violence,” Shields lays out a case for why the Planned Parenthood shooting is no big deal. (The Washington Post later changed the title of the article to “Despite Planned Parenthood shooting, abortion-related violence used to be worse,” because apparently someone at WaPo thought that was a good idea and a better title.)
Let’s take a minute to let that sink in. At a time when the families of the three people gunned down at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs are in mourning, Shields took to the pages of the Washington Post to proclaim that clinic violence isn’t as bad as it used to be, so everyone just calm down already.
According to Shields, the fact that Dear “has no history of pro-life activity” and “was no antiabortion crusader in the past” means that his “alleged actions had little to do with a larger social movement.”
“It is tempting to assume,” Shields writes, “that the man charged with the killings, Robert L. Dear, is merely the most recent product of the right-to-life movement’s violent fringe.”
Not so, according to Shields. Dear wasn’t some anti-choice crusader. He was just a troubled man with a troubled past and some troubling mental health issues. Oh, and did I mention he’s white? Because of course he is.
It’s a media cliché, at this point: Every white person that shoots up a school, a movie theater, or an abortion clinic is immediately categorized as mentally ill. But when it comes to the Paris attacks, for example, mental illness is never floated as a possible motivator. Apparently, religious extremism is only behind the actions of Muslims. White Christian terrorists are all just misunderstood lone wolves who probably just need a hug and a Whopper Jr. from Burger King.
Shields’ article is replete with deplorable terrorism apologia: At one point, he actually writes, “[v]iolent radicals first attracted attention in the 1980s when they began orchestrating many late-night clinic bombings that were successfully timed to avoid casualties.”
How kind of them. We should be thanking them, really.
But what’s worse than pooh-poohing the bombing of abortion clinics—whether under cover of night or not—is that the premise of Shields’ article is patently false.
Shields argues that the Colorado Springs shootings “give us little reason to suspect that a renewed network of violent radicals is targeting abortion providers as they once did in the 1990s.”
Maybe Shields might have had a point before mid-July. After all, the Colorado shooting is the first anti-choice-related killing since Scott Roeder walked into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and murdered Dr. George Tiller in 2009.
But five months ago, a 20-something named David Daleiden and his anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), embarked on a smear campaign in an effort to bring down Planned Parenthood by exposing them as “baby parts” “traffickers.” Daleiden edited secretly recorded video footage within an inch of its life in order to make it appear as if Planned Parenthood doctors were sipping wine as they laughed about buying Lamborghinis with their ill-gotten gains from the sale of baby parts when, in fact, the opposite was true. The so-called full videos (which experts determined were also heavily edited) show Daleiden’s targets repeatedly saying that the purpose of the tissue donation program was to provide women with an option to donate fetal tissue and to recoup costs as permitted by law, not to profit. He then released one video per week until forced to stop by court order.
By then, however, it was too late. Threats of violence, death, and intimidation were already being lobbed at the subjects of the videos who could be identified. Lives had already been ruined.
And as a result of Daleiden’s scheme, there has been a surge of violence against abortion clinics and providers. According to National Abortion Federation court filings, incidents of harassment against Planned Parenthood clinics increased ninefold in July, as compared to reported incidents in June. Reported incidents of harassment were even more numerous in August.
In September, the FBI warned that there would be “an uptick in attacks on reproductive health-care facilities.” And lest you think it’s a grand coincidence, according to CBS News, investigators have tied the uptick in violence directly to CMP’s smear campaign.
While police have cautioned that it is too early to determine the motive for the Colorado Springs shooting (seriously, guys?), numerous news outlets reported that Dear said “no more baby parts” to investigators while he was being interviewed. That phrase is an obvious reference to the deceptively edited attack videos.
So no, Shields, it is no longer correct to say that anti-choice violence is not on the rise.
Still, WaPo thought it smart to publish an article downplaying the violence as no big deal.
Furthermore, the Post didn’t see fit to inform its readers that Jon Shields not only knows David Daleiden, but co-authored with him exactly the sort of article that contributes to incidents of anti-abortion violence by worsening stigma about the procedure.
In 2010, the Weekly Standard published a piece co-written by Daleiden and Shields that circulated widely among anti-choice circles titled “Mugged by Ultrasound.” (The piece is no longer featured on the Weekly Standard, but can be read here.) In the article, Daleiden and Shields wax on about a handful of abortion providers who decided they could no longer perform abortions and attempt to draw some grand conclusion that, increasingly, abortion providers are getting out of the business because it makes them feel bad. Daleiden and Shields also managed to compare abortion providers to communists: “[W]ith the exception of communism, we can think of few other movements from which so many activists have defected to the opposition.” And we all know just how rational the conservatives’ reaction to communism can be.
Shields and Daleiden’s article begins, “Abortion rights activists have long preferred to hold themselves at some remove from the practice they promote; rather than naming it, they speak of ‘choice’ and ‘reproductive freedom.’ But those who perform abortions have no such luxury.”
The article devolves into standard anti-choice pablum from there.
So to recap: At a time when most folks with two brain cells to rub together—including Ben Carson, by the way—are attributing the Colorado Springs shooting to the hateful rhetoric that the “ZOMG! BABY PARTS!” scandal stirred up, the Washington Post published an article by Daleiden’s co-author downplaying anti-choice violence.
Great job, guys.
David Daleiden, of course, doesn’t want anyone to think that he condones the sort of anti-choice violence that took place last Friday. In the wake of the shooting, Daleiden claimed “[t]he Center for Medical Progress does not support vigilante violence against abortion providers. There are people at Planned Parenthood who I still consider friends and my thoughts and prayers are with them at this time for no one to be injured.”
Daleiden’s doe-eyed condemnation (and unbelievable reference to his “friends” at Planned Parenthood) aside, he and CMP have spent five months demonizing Planned Parenthood over nothing. Daleiden lied his way into NAF meetings, videotaped his “friends,” and made it appear as if his “friends” were callously selling “baby parts” to the highest bidder when nothing of the sort was happening. He even went so far as to use photos of Alexis Fretz’s stillborn child without her permission in order to intimate that Fretz’s stillborn child was a baby that had been aborted at 19 weeks’ gestation—ripped apart by his barbaric “friends” at Planned Parenthood. Never mind that the photo is not of an aborted fetus and had nothing to do with a Planned Parenthood clinic. Daleiden had a story to tell and he wasn’t going to let facts get in his way.
Given his effort to bring down Planned Parenthood, Daleiden cannot now pretend to “condemn the barbaric killing spree” when his own actions appear to have helped incite it.
Jon Shields should be ashamed of himself for trying to downplay the connection between the shooting and his co-author’s nefarious activities.
And the Washington Post should be ashamed of itself for publishing Shields’ nonsense without disclosing to its readers his connection to David Daleiden and the “baby parts” smear campaign that seems to have motivated the shooter.