Three people were killed and nine others were injured following a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs this past Friday. Though an official motive remains unclear, law enforcement officials report that, following his surrender, the suspect stated, “no more baby parts,” an apparent reference to leaked Planned Parenthood videos that surfaced earlier this year. Erick Erickson and Ben Shapiro — editors of RedState and Breitbart, media outlets influential on the right, respectively — initially attempted to cast the incident as a bank robbery, given that the shooting took place near a Chase Bank. Chase refuted these claims, and the tweets have since been deleted or retracted.
After the suspect was captured, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told CNN, “You can certainly infer what [the motive] may have been in terms of where it took place and the manner in which it took place,” and Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the attack a, “crime against women receiving health care services.”
The attempt of Erickson and Shapiro to represent the violence as a bank robbery gone wrong illustrates an effort to absolve the right of any responsibility for this attack. This is not to suggest that anyone on the right supports or condones such violence. In fact, most GOP presidential candidates have since condemned the brutality. It’s not clear if the suspect is politically engaged or at all aware of the antagonistic rhetoric continually employed in the Republican discussion surrounding Planned Parenthood. But this is not an examination of what fueled one disturbed person; it is a consideration on the reckless rhetoric that has fostered a societal atmosphere that directs public mistrust and animosity towards an organization that provides women with healthcare.
In response to the shooting, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared it, “a little bit disingenuous on the part of Planned Parenthood to blame people who have a strong philosophical disagreement with the dismembering of human babies and with the selling of body parts.”
But in August, Huckabee made comments strikingly similar to that of the suspect when he asserted, “I would also invoke the 15th and 14th Amendments. This is the power that we have to stop this incredible, barbaric scourge of abortions … I would let those who want to slaughter babies, those who want to sell their body parts, let them sue me.”
While Republican candidate Ben Carson has called the attack a “hate crime” and suggested that, “If we can get rid of the rhetoric from either side and actually talk about the facts, I think that’s when we begin to make progress,” his previous sentiments, however, strike as contradictory.
In July, Carson told CNN that Planned Parenthood, “doesn’t seem to understand the sanctity of human life and is willing to destroy that,” as well as calling the women’s health organization, “an organization whose founder believed in eugenics.”
These comments seem even more remarkable when considering Dr. Carson himself conducted research using fetal tissue from aborted fetuses during his medical career.
In the second GOP debate in September, Carly Fiorina maintained, in an egregious lie, that one of the aforementioned leaked Planned Parenthood videos displayed, “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’”
Responding to the Planned Parenthood videos in September, Chris Christie proclaimed that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton supports, “the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts in a way that maximizes their value for sale for profit.”
This past Sunday, Senator Ted Cruz attempted to further deflect from the issue, labeling the suspect a, “transgendered leftist activist.”
One can be opposed to abortion without demonizing Planned Parenthood. In fact, abortion services constitute a minority of the care Planned Parenthood provides. And to be clear, Planned Parenthood never sold or profited from body parts obtained in abortions. Fetal-tissue donations are utilized in medical research using tissue samples to explore cures for ailments including spinal cord injuries, eye disease, cancer and HIV. Vilifying the organization with outright lies and deceptions simply serves to stoke misplaced fear for the sake of appearing tough on abortion.
Moreover, if such statements reflect legitimate internal opposition to abortion, as opposed to a formulaic appeal targeting conservative voters, then why not support policy that reduces abortions such as expanding access to birth control, providing healthcare, teaching sex education and/or implementing paternal leave.
Republican rhetoric didn’t cause the shooting in Colorado Springs, yet it did foster an environment that allows for hatred towards an organization whose primary goal is providing healthcare to women.
Presidential Candidates must be mindful of their rhetoric and carefully consider the balance between campaigning and unintended consequences.
Jake Forken is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. My Forken Opinion appears alternate Fridays this semester.