In the wake of Friday’s horrific shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, we’re hearing calls to deescalate the rhetoric around the issue of abortion.
The implication is that both sides are reaching for rhetorical excess. The problem with this claim is that it’s demonstrably untrue.
Pro-choice advocates have argued calmly in favor of reproductive choice for years. They’ve marshalled facts and figures. They have pointed out that Planned Parenthood provides an array of services to men and women, many of whom are low income. They’ve challenged anti-choice activists to explain how these services would be provided if Planned Parenthood were defunded.
The response from many in the anti-choice community has been nowhere near as reasoned. They have ignored the facts, repeatedly employed the most lurid rhetoric imaginable and lobbed charges that don’t stand up to scrutiny. On the fringe of the movement rest people who advocate and employ violence.
Details about Robert Lewis Dear, the shooter in Colorado who stands accused of murdering three people, are still leaking out. But several media outlets have reported that Dear made comments about “baby parts” to police after his apprehension.
It’s likely this was a reference to a series of “sting” videos released over the summer by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress. The videos were deceptively edited to make it appear that Planned Parenthood staffers were illegally selling fetal tissue.
Right-wing media outlets spread these false charges, and they were quickly picked up by politicians eager to score points with the Religious Right. The requisite round of show hearings in Congress followed. Several Republican presidential candidates piled on. Carly Fiorina began claiming that the videos showed a botched abortion that resulted in a live birth, and that Planned Parenthood staffers plotted to kill the child and harvest its brain.
Even with the deceptive editing, the videos show no such thing. This was pointed out to Fiorina several times, yet she continues to spread the ghastly tall tale. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Fiorina still refused to let go of the false claim. She blamed “the left” for “demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message.”
Several other GOP presidential candidates offered perfunctory denunciations of violence before launching more attacks on Planned Parenthood and spreading more lies about the group. Remarkably, just days after this horrific incident, these zealots show no signs of letting up.
Three people were murdered at the clinic – Ke’Arre Marcell Stewart, Jennifer Markovsky and Garrett Swasey. Swasey, a police officer with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was a deacon at a non-denominational Christian church and the father of two young children.
Some members of Swasey’s church have noted that he was not a supporter of legal abortion himself, given the conservative nature of his theology. That did not matter to him. Swasey saw people in danger and did what a good cop does – rushed into the danger zone to help.
Stewart and Markovsky were accompanying friends to the clinic. The simple acts of decency and bravery of all of these people cost them their lives.
They are being memorialized now and that will continue, but it's not enough. The anti-abortion zealots, their political allies and the right-wing media figures who spread these lies about Planned Parenthood – the lies that very likely whipped an unstable man into a state of violent frenzy – need to engage in self-reflection and then offer an apology to the nation.
It’s the least any decent person would do, but I’m not holding my breath.