On November 27, a gunman named Robert Lewis Dear opened fire at the Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs, resulting in the senseless deaths of three people and injuries to nine others. As we try to heal and make sense of the horrific tragedy, here’s what you need to know about what happened, what’s happening now, and the politics surrounding the violence.
1. It is Safe to Get Health Care.
While what happened in Colorado was a tragedy, it was also rare. The vast majority of Planned Parenthood health centers will never have a violent incident. The health and safety of Planned Parenthood’s patients is its top priority. That’s why Planned Parenthood health centers like the one in Colorado Springs have measures and protocols in place to make sure patients and staff are safe even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.
Acts of violence like the one in Colorado Springs are intended to intimidate women and men out of accessing the health care they need. Planned Parenthood won’t let that happen. That’s why Planned Parenthood health center doors are continuing to stay open to all people who need high-quality, compassionate health care. In fact, Planned Parenthood’s approximately 700 health centers across the country — including health centers in Colorado — remained open over the weekend, and thousands of women were able to access care.
2. The Shooter’s Motivation Was Linked to Anti-Abortion Animus
While we’re still learning more about Dear’s motivation, we do know that words matter — and hateful rhetoric fuels violence.
This attack, like past violence at abortion providers, was motivated by an opposition to access to safe and legal abortion. It also seems that Dear’s motivation for his shooting rampage was fueled by something even more specific: a recent smear campaign and false accusations against Planned Parenthood. According to numerous accounts, Dear invoked the phrase “no more baby parts” after his arrest on Friday night — a reference to the debunked, highly edited, intentionally misleading videos that were released this summer and fall by a group of militant, anti-abortion extremists with close ties to people who have attempted to firebomb abortion clinics.
3. Attacks Against Women’s Health Have Created a Climate of Hate
Acts of domestic terrorism do not exist in a vacuum, and we've seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric against abortion providers and patients over the last few months. It’s no coincidence that this violence occurred while extreme members of Congress are targeting women’s health care, and anti-abortion governors are singling out the essential health services Planned Parenthood provides — and while anti-abortion extremists are releasing smear videos. Attacks against reproductive health care have created a poisonous environment.
The kind of violence we saw last week is the most extreme outcome of a climate where discredited smear videos go viral, and lawmakers continue to attack however they can — spewing violent language and repeating false claims.
4. Presidential Candidates Doubled Down on Incendiary Rhetoric
This appalling act of violence came at a time when anti-abortion politicians are doing everything in their power to demonize Planned Parenthood doctors and patients. What’s even more despicable is that since Friday’s tragedy, their incendiary rhetoric — which already has spurred anti-abortion activists to go to shocking extremes to close Planned Parenthood's doors — hasn’t stopped.
One of the lessons of this awful tragedy is that it's not enough to denounce the tragedy without also denouncing the poisonous language that fueled it. And yet, some anti-abortion politicians are actually using the Colorado tragedy to repeat lies and push their agenda to block patients from receiving care at Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide — threatening access to basic care like birth control, cancer screenings, and HIV testing for millions of patients.
Even as we mourn this horrific shooting, we’re hearing incendiary rhetoric from Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee (and radio silence from Marco Rubio). And here’s two of the most despicable responses from anti-women’s health presidential candidates:
Last week Ted Cruz accepted the endorsement of anti-abortion extremists who spent time in prison for plotting to do violence to abortion providers. As if he couldn’t sink any lower, he then blamed the shooting on a “transgendered leftist activist” — insinuating that the shooter is transgender, and playing into fears and myths about transgender people.
Carly Fiorina reiterated the same misinformation that seemed to inspire this act of violence — statements about Planned Parenthood that have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be false.
Enough is enough.
5. Planned Parenthood’s Doors Will Stay Open
Bottom line: Planned Parenthood’s doors will remain open — no matter what. Planned Parenthood will continue to provide compassionate health care to people who have trusted it and relied on it for generations. As Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said at a vigil for the victims on Saturday: “We will adapt. We will square our shoulders and we will move on.”
She’s right. And Planned Parenthood Action Fund will be there to support Planned Parenthood health centers, and fight for their existence. We will not be intimidated. We will continue to fight attacks on patients trying to access care and providers committed to the health of their communities. We won’t back down from fighting against legislation aimed at limiting reproductive rights in our country.
But we need your help to do it.
The smear campaign and false accusations that motivated the attack in Colorado Springs must STOP.
Sign on to stand with Planned Parenthood and demand an end to rhetoric that incites anti-abortion violence!