On Nov. 30, a day when many Americans were kicking off holiday shopping in earnest, a man named Robert Lewis Dear had other ideas. He burst into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and allegedly started shooting. Three people were killed and several injured before Dear was subdued.
According to various media accounts, Dear told police there must be “no more baby parts.” The reference is to a series of “sting” videos released over the summer by an extreme 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, something they weren’t actually doing.
Religious Right groups, right-wing websites and far-right politicians immediately began calling for Planned Parenthood to be defunded. Some of the stories bordered on fantastic. Carly Fiorina, a businesswoman who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, claimed that the videos showed a baby being born alive after a botched abortion. She insisted that Planned Parenthood staffers plotted to harvest its brain.
The videos show no such thing. This was pointed out to Fiorina several times, yet she continued to tell the story. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill far-right legislators convened a series of show hearings to express their outrage over the videos, even though it was quite obvious at that point that they had been doctored.
Dear appears to have some mental-health issues. The New York Times and other media outlets reported on his personal beliefs, which can be described as a strange mishmash of fundamentalist Christianity merged with drug abuse, misogyny and right-wing politics.
Dear also owned a lot of weapons. In short, he was just the sort of person to believe wild stories about Planned Parenthood killing and harvesting babies. He decided to act on those tales.
When the alarm came, Colorado Springs police put out a call for backup from neighboring jurisdictions. Among those to respond was Garrett Swasey, a police officer with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Swasey was a deacon at a non-denominational Christian church and the father of two young children. Reports are that he was personally opposed to abortion, but that didn’t matter. Swasey saw people in danger and rushed in to help. He was gunned down along with Ke’Arre Marcell Stewart and Jennifer Markovsky, both of whom were at the clinic supporting friends.
Days after the shootings, Religious Right groups issued perfunctory statements condemning violence. There was always a catch: Yes, people were murdered and that’s bad, they said – but Planned Parenthood is still evil.
The bodies of the dead in Colorado Springs weren’t even cold before the Family Research Council (FRC) issued a series of emails demanding that Planned Parenthood be defunded. The FRC didn’t even have the decency to wait until after the funerals before renewing its offensive drumbeat of lies.
The people who lead and support organizations like FRC and their political allies love to parade their religiosity, which supposedly makes them decent and trustworthy people. Yet their much-discussed conservative theological beliefs have apparently given them no ability to engage in self-reflection or provided them with even a scintilla of ethics.
In light of the tragedy in Colorado, those who spread lies about Planned Parenthood and “baby parts” have an obligation to look inwardly and attempt to assess their degree of responsibility. They cannot or will not do this. Fiorina still refuses to admit that the scene she described seeing never took place. She places the blame for the controversy not on herself for saying things that aren’t true but on an amorphous bogeyman called “the left” that is, she claims, attacking her because they don’t like her message.
The unpleasant truth is this: That message is all too often an inflammatory one, built on a tissue of lies, and in this case it very likely prodded an unstable individual to go on a killing spree.
It’s also important to remember the end game here. Groups like the Center for Medical Progress and FRC aren’t really concerned about the selling of fetal tissue. Ghastly tales about body parts are merely designed to conjure up a Dr. Frankenstein image that will frighten the public and turn them against Planned Parenthood. These groups are run by fundamentalist zealots whose goal is to end legal abortion in America for any reason. Lately they’ve also attacked other forms of reproductive health care and have used a bogus “religious freedom” argument to restrict Americans’ access to birth control.
They do these things not because they care about women but because they seek to control them. Bothered by feminism and the push for equality, these organizations cling to notions of “traditional” gender roles anchored in their narrow interpretation of ancient religious texts. They are also aware that the power to control women’s reproductive choices is the power to control their lives.
So they blather on, attacking an organization that provides cancer screenings, pap smears, pregnancy tests, contraceptives and other services to people who otherwise would not get these things. And when their rhetoric of lies results in a roomful of dead and injured people they simply turn away.
Yes, they have the right to say these things – as vile as they may be. But bet your bottom dollar that the rest of us have every right, and indeed a duty, to hold them accountable for the blood they spill.