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Opinion

Editorial: Must Planned Parenthood critics share guilt with the shooter?

Planned Parenthood shooting

A sign in support of Planned Parenthood stands just south of the clinic as police investigators gather evidence near the scene of Friday’s shooting on Sunday, Nov. 29.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The attack on a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., that killed a mother of two, an Iraq war veteran and a police officer was a horrific crime and not the first such outrage. But was it also the inevitable result of recent denunciations of Planned Parenthood in Congress and elsewhere — to the point that the organization’s critics must share some measure of responsibility for what happened?

That argument is being made by some in the pro-choice movement. But the connection between political rhetoric and criminal acts is hard to establish in the absence of an explicit incitement to violence. Also (and it’s not clear whether this is true of Friday’s shooter), to a deranged mind, any cause can seem like a justification for murder; it’s a big leap to blame even an impassioned speaker for the acts of a madman.

Police are still investigating what might have led Robert Lewis Dear, who was arrested in Friday’s attacks, to target the clinic. But reports that Dear mentioned “baby parts” in a statement to police have inspired speculation that he was influenced by the allegations floated in a series of recent videos that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal issue.

In fact, using fetal tissue for medical research is perfectly legal, and Planned Parenthood said any payments it received were to defray the costs associated with the donations. Yet Republican members of Congress and potential presidential candidates continue to engage in inaccurate and inflammatory attacks on Planned Parenthood. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz called the organization an “ongoing criminal enterprise.”

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We wish politicians and activists would refrain from what Sen. Dianne Feinstein rightly called “toxic rhetoric.” The political circus over the Planned Parenthood videos is disgraceful.

But we also recognize that opponents of abortion have the same right as other Americans to give voice to their convictions in passionate and even polarizing language.

For supporters of legal abortion, the term “baby parts” is tasteless, misleading and needlessly provocative. But to many abortion opponents — including those who condemn the carnage in Colorado Springs and other acts of violence — such emotive language is unavoidable. Their core conviction is that the unborn have a right to life and that abortion is, if not murder in the legal sense, a moral abomination. As long as the 1st Amendment exists, they are free to make that case in those terms — so long as they neither violate the law nor incite others to do so.

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