Pro-choice leaders in Colorado say an atmosphere of intimidation and extremist rhetoric could have played a role in last week’s shootings at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs.
Reproductive rights advocates pointed to the series of deceptively edited, widely discredited attack videos released by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as playing a key role in enraging the public and prompting vitriol aimed at Planned Parenthood and the people who receive health care at Planned Parenthood centers. CMP officials have worked alongside Republican lawmakers to accuse Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue despite no evidence of wrongdoing turning up in GOP-led investigations of the health-care organization.
“We have to acknowledge that this violence was inspired in part by the false allegations that were made about Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers both in the recent heavily edited videos and the myths and misinformation that are regularly touted,” Cristina Aguilar, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), said in an email to Rewire.
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“Terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation to push a political agenda or to make a statement,” Aguilar said. “It is about fear, and in this case it is part of a long history of harassment and violence against health centers that provide abortion.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he hoped to see a change in the way abortion rights are discussed in political circles following the rampage of alleged shooter Robert Lewis Dear, who reportedly said “no more baby parts” during police questioning.
“I think our community, the United States of America, ought to begin a discussion looking at, how do you begin to tone back the inflammatory rhetoric that in some ways might be good for selling products in advertisements or whatever, but in some way it is inflaming people to the point where they can’t stand it,” Hickenlooper said in a CNN interview Sunday. “And they go out and they lose connection to reality in some way and commit these acts of unthinkable violence.”
Hickenlooper emphasized he did not want to “restrict people’s free speech.”
“But I think we should have a discussion of at least urging caution when we discuss some of these issues so that we don’t get people to a point of committing senseless violence,” he said.
Pro-choice advocates said it would be critical to label the Colorado Springs shootings as domestic terrorism.
“Too many providers and patients in Colorado, a pro-choice state, face harassment and threats of violence on a daily basis,” Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said in a statement. “This is not acceptable—it should never be acceptable. We need to call the threats of violence and the intimidation of health care providers and patients what it is—domestic terrorism. And more public officials in Colorado and across the country, not just advocacy groups and the people on the front lines, need to take a stand opposing domestic terrorism and supporting women’s health.”
In most of its communications, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) has focused on the safety of its patients and staff, but the organization has also drawn attention to extremists who are creating a “poisonous environment.”
“We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country,” PPRM tweeted on Friday. “We will never back away from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that millions of people rely on and trust.”
Anti-choice leaders have mostly denounced the violence with equivocation, and they are pushing back on the idea that extremist rhetoric may have caused the murders.
KNUS radio host Dan Caplis, who is ardently anti-choice, said on Monday that Hickenlooper “just doesn’t want us speaking the truth” about Planned Parenthood.