Killings in Colorado abortion clinic spark blame game

Pro-choice activists say ‘hateful rhetoric’ over secret videos has increased violent threats

The man accused of killing three people and wounding nine in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs makes his first court appearance. Video: Reuters


Four words attributed to the man accused of killing three people in a gun attack on a clinic in Colorado on Friday have lit a political firestorm around the highly charged US national debate on abortion.

Law enforcement sources cited by US media said that after Robert Lewis Dear was arrested, he said “no more baby parts” in rantings about why he allegedly attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic.

The shootings took place five months after anti-abortion group the Centre for Medical Progress released undercover videos that appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue and organs from aborted foetuses. The group’s founder, David Daleiden, has accused the health services provider of “criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts”.

Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health services organisation with 700 affiliated clinics in all 50 states, argued that the videos were deceptively edited and lawsuits have been taken against Daleiden’s group stopping any more videos being released amid claims they were illegally recorded.

Conservatives opposed to abortion have seized on the videos, using them in Congress and in the Republican presidential campaign to criticise Planned Parenthood in fiery rhetoric that abortion rights advocates say is endangering staff at abortion clinics.

In one particularly passionate contribution, presidential candidate Carly Fiorina during a Republican debate in September dared Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to view the tapes and “watch a fully formed foetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain”.

The footage she seemed to have been referring to shows a technician at a biotech company which purchased aborted foetus parts from Planned Parenthood speaking about a scene she witnessed that is similar to Fiorina’s description.

Intercut footage

The footage has led to state and congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood that have failed to stand up the allegations against it. In the face of conservative attacks, the group has stopped accepting reimbursements for foetal tissue donations at the two Planned Parenthood clinics that allow women to make donations for medical research.

According to the group’s report, Planned Parenthood carried out 327,653 abortion procedures out of 10.59 million “total services” provided in the year to the end of June 2014, including breast exams and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The group received $528 million in government health grants and reimbursements, funding that congressional Republicans are trying to end.

Febrile debate

National Abortion Federation

Prior to the Colorado Springs shootings, there have been eight murders linked to anti-abortion violence, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 arson attacks against abortion providers, according to the federation’s president, Vicki Saporta.

The last incident, before Friday, was the fatal shooting of George Tiller, a doctor who carried out late-term abortions, in Wichita, Kansas in 2009.

Ms Saporta said certain candidates “would do well to stop wrapping themselves in the same cloak with these anti-abortion extremists” and stop repeating falsities in the video tapes that “further add to the firestorm of hateful rhetoric”.

“It is one thing to be anti-abortion and to have civil discourse about your beliefs. It is quite another to repeat false and inflammatory accusations and to use false videotapes in order to advance your political career,” Ms Saporta told The Irish Times. The Centre for Medical Progress did not respond to requests seeking comment.

On Sunday Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, a retired surgeon, denounced “extremism coming from all areas” in the debate.

Ms Fiorina, a former business executive, condemned the violence, saying that “nothing justifies this”, but she rejected any suggestion that the rhetoric had led to the shootings.