As details continue to emerge about Robert Lewis Dear, the shooter who muttered “no more baby parts” to police as they escorted him from the Planned Parenthood in Colorado where he murdered three people and injured nine others, Republican candidates and anti-choice activists are desperate to reframe this act of domestic terrorism as an isolated act by a “crazed” lone gunman.
David Daleiden, the 26-year-old whose Center for Medical Progress produced the doctored videos that spawned the latest wave of anti-choice attacks, threats, and violence, has called the shooting a “barbaric act” by a “violent madman,” and Republican candidates were quick to pile on with their own counterfactual narratives about the shooting. Donald Trump called Dear a “sick person” and claimed that we don’t know “the purpose” of the shootings. John Kasich called the violence “senseless.” And Ted Cruz went so far as to refer to Dear as a “transgendered leftist activist,” simultaneously demonizing trans people and deflecting blame onto “leftists,” the very people who’ve worked for years to get the US government to treat violence against clinic providers as domestic terrorism.
Terrorism thrives in a climate of heightened rhetoric, and anti-choice rhetoric has never been more heightened. Let’s stop pretending words have no consequences. Eliminationist rhetoric against abortion and abortion providers contributes to and encourages violence against those abortion providers.
This act wasn’t “senseless,” and it wasn’t apolitical. Tragically, it makes perfect sense in a political environment in which one party wants to eliminate abortion and abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. When you call abortion providers murders, as Mike Huckabee did in response to the shootings, or resort to lurid, headline-grabbing fabrications, like Carly Fiorina’s “fully formed fetus on the table, its legs kicking,” or suggest, as Jeb Bush did, that there’s no connection between hate speech against abortion providers and hate crimes against those same abortion providers, you’re creating the conditions for murders like the ones in Colorado this weekend. When you release fraudulent videos that imply criminal acts, and suggest that abortion providers are “harvest baby body parts for profit,” you’re whipping up the kind of anger that inevitably manifests as violence. Those who suggest that people who protect and exercise the right to choose are murderers bear some of the responsibility when abortion providers and clinic patients are attacked and killed.
Even on the Democratic side, politicians have consistently refused to recognize these attacks for what they are: Acts of domestic terrorism that were not just predictable but predicted, by NARAL and other pro-choice advocates. Instead, they’ve condemned the shootings and called for additional restrictions on gun access–which are necessary–and crackdowns on people the government deems “mentally ill”–which are disablist and would have done nothing to prevent the shooting in Colorado.
Instead of looking at each act of violence against an abortion provider as an isolated incident, it’s time–far past time–to consider these attacks as part of an ongoing campaign of domestic terrorism against abortion providers and the women who seek abortion services.