After Shooting, Anti-Choice Rhetoric Denounced for Creating Culture of Hate

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After Shooting, Anti-Choice Rhetoric Denounced for Creating Culture of Hate

"You are not free from the judgement of the consequences of your hate-filled rhetoric," says NARAL leader after Colorado attack

"This kind of violence just can't keep happening," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards on Monday. (Photo: AP)

Words matter.

That's what women's health and reproductive rights advocates are repeating in the wake of Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs that killed three people and left nine others injured.

"How we talk about abortion matters," wrote columnist Jessica Valenti at the Guardian on Sunday. "We know it, and anti-choice extremists and politicians know it... Do we really think that there are no consequences to claiming that abortion is murder, or that Planned Parenthood is an organization of money-hungry monsters selling baby parts?"

Those consequences, said Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains president and CEO Vicki Cowart immediately after the attack, include the creation of "a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country."

As details trickle out about the man who opened fire on a clinic in Colorado Springs, observers say the specifics of the case matter just as much the context in which they emerged.

The alleged shooter, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, was arrested Friday after a five-hour standoff at the facility and is scheduled to appear in court on Monday. While his motives are still under investigation, law enforcement sources say the suspect told police "no more baby parts" as he was taken into custody—an apparent reference to the anti-choice video smear campaign that began over the summer.

On Saturday, the architect of that campaign—shadowy anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP)—took to social media to condemn "the barbaric killing spree in Colorado Springs by a violent madman." 

But for Ilyse Hogue, president of advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, that censure rang hollow.

"Sorry, David Daleiden," she wrote online, addressing the CMP founder. "You don't get to create fake videos and accuse abortion providers of 'barbaric atrocities against humanity' one day and act shocked when someone shoots to kill in those same facilities the next."

"It's America. You are free to have your speech," she continued. However, she warned: "The language you choose matters. You are not free from the judgement of the consequences of your hate-filled rhetoric."

Indeed, as Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, pointed out in a statement Friday, abortion providers have seen "an unprecedented increase in hate speech and threats" since the CMP videos came out.

Writing for The Nation over the weekend, Zoë Carpenter noted:

In September, the FBI noted an increase in cyber attacks and arsons, and warned that it was “likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.” In October, a Planned Parenthood facility in California was fire-bombed, following three similar incidents in Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington. A clinic in New Hampshire was spray-painted with the word “murderer,” and then, a few weeks later, attacked by an intruder wielding a hatchet.

Those on the front lines see a clear link between such violent acts and escalating anti-abortion rhetoric—which has gained traction not just on the fringes but even in the GOP primary fight.

"Although anti-abortion groups may condemn this type of violence when it happens, the way that they target and demonize providers contributes to a culture where some feel it is justifiable to murder doctors simply because they provide women with the abortion care they need," Saporta said.

In the meantime, while security remains tight at Planned Parenthood facilities across the country, clinic doors are staying open. The organization's national president, Cecile Richards, told NPR on Monday that "thousands" of women accessed Planned Parenthood healthcare services over the weekend.

"This kind of violence just can't keep happening," Richards said, adding that the group and many people are concerned about the "increased sort of hateful rhetoric and intimidation of both doctors and women who are both providing health care and getting health care in America."

"It's really un-American," she declared. "It's been hard to see the kind of dehumanization of both healthcare providers and of course, women who are simply looking for healthcare."

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