It is always shocking when innocent people are slain in a sudden eruption of violence, as three residents of Colorado Springs were last Friday when an armed man began shooting in the parking lot of a Planned Parenthood facility.
The policeman and two women who were killed, and other people who were injured, are the latest victims of a type of lethal violence that is all too common in the United States – unpredictable, obscurely motivated, but made easy by the accessibility of guns and the propensity of Americans to arm themselves. Just four weeks earlier the same town was the scene of a similar episode in which a male cyclist and two women were killed before police shot dead the male shooter.
Both perpetrators appear to be troubled people who decided at a certain point that someone else had to pay for their suffering. How deliberately selected were the targets? We don’t know.
Robert Dear, the Planned Parenthood shooter is said to have muttered something about “baby body parts” in a rambling discourse after his arrest, but the man’s neighbours say that, although he rambled on at times about many things, abortion was not one of them.
All the same, if Dear did hear reports about the Planned Parenthood fetal tissue and organ scandal exposed by undercover anti-abortion activists, it might well have focused his resentment. If he was looking for some real “baddies”, in comparison with whom he could feel morally superior, then people who conducted abortions with the marketability of the “products” in mind might have seemed fitting candidates.
Let’s not forget the video testimony of abortionists talking about how to crush a well developed fetus so as not to damage a saleable organ, or how “cute” the tiny heart of a 9-week aborted fetus is. Selling the brains, hearts, lungs and livers of aborted babies is only the final insult to the human being by professionals who have gone completely off the rails.
Even without these revelations, however, and despite being legalised by a Supreme Court fiat four decades ago, abortion has remained a highly controversial practice in America. A significant proportion of the population rejects it completely – and feels bound to oppose it politically – while up to half the population has at least some reservations about it.
In addition, Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of abortion: in 2012 it carried out 327,166 of an estimated total of 699,202 abortions in the US. And, while it receives no public funds for abortions, it receives substantial public funding for other services for low-income clients. This amounted to US$528.4 million in the 2013-2014 year – 40 percent of its annual budget.
(Senator Barbara Boxer may have been referring to contraceptives, STI testing and Pap smears when she said, “It is time to stop the demonizing and witch hunts against Planned Parenthood, its staff and patients, and the lifesaving health care it provides to millions every day,” but she could hardly have meant that 300,000 abortions a year represent “lifesaving treatment”.)
The fact is that Planned Parenthood of America is a big target, big enough to get hit by some of the hundreds of mass shootings and other extremist violence that occurs in the US every year. One lesson of the latest attack is this: If you choose to engage in a highly controversial activity in a very visible way, expect to attract some insane and criminal attention.
None of this excuses violence against abortion facilities, or any other controversial enterprise, whether it is nuclear testing, battery hen farming, animal experimentation or hunting whales – all of which have attracted extreme activists and charges of terrorism. All violent tactics should be condemned and punished.
It only means that the inevitable clashes of ideologies in modern societies, and the inevitable quota of alienated, obsessive and violent individuals will from time to time interact.
In the wake of the Center for Medical Progress video releases and the appointment of a Congressional inquiry into Planned Parenthood, the FBI noted in September that several incidents — cyber-attacks, threats and arsons – had occurred, “consistent with the actions of lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement”. The agency warned there would likely be more.
In point of fact there is no pro-life “extremist movement”, only individual extremists who attach themselves to movements of various kinds and perpetrate violence for their own reasons.
One way to prevent lethal harm resulting is to disarm the population as much as possible. Every shooting in the US, no matter what the target, is another argument for gun control, as President Obama himself has indicated in the wake of the Colorado Springs tragedy.
But no shooting is an argument for shutting down free speech, whether it is about the reality of what goes on in abortion clinics or, as we learned from the Charlie Hebdo murders in January, about the perceived irrationalities of a volatile religious group.
When Vicki Cowart, head of Planned Parenthood’s Rocky Mountains region, accuses “hateful speech” – that is, the reaction of a normal human being to the baby body parts trade – and when Barbara Boxer refers to “demonization” of the organisation, they are asking to be protected from the consequences of their own ideology. In a democratic society that cannot be allowed.
There is another solution: Planned Parenthood could give up the abortion business altogether and just provide services that really are “lifesaving”. Is that not profitable enough?
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.