Update: Around 5 p.m. local time Friday, a gunman who opened fire at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was arrested and taken into police custody alive, according to Mayor John Suthers. Late Friday evening, a law enforcement source told CNN the gunman was 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear. At least 11 people were taken to hospitals for treatment, including five officers, authorities said. The Colorado Springs Police Department has confirmed that three victims, one Colorado Springs police officer and two civilians, have died.
Earlier: On Friday morning, a harrowing scene unfolded at a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with a gunman opening fire and injuring at least three police officers, and a yet-unknown number of civilians. While the situation was chaotic and prone to conflicting reports, authorities eventually confirmed that the shooting began at the clinic, making many fear the worst: namely, that this is deadly anti-abortion terrorism. And if so, it shouldn't shock you — if you're wondering how common threats against Planned Parenthood are, the simplest answer is pretty damn common.
In the first place, abortion clinics and the doctors and nurses who staff them have been the targets of domestic terrorist incidents for years. Since 1993, eight different doctors have been murdered, the most recent example being Dr. George Tiller of Kansas, who was fatally shot by anti-abortion zealot Scott Roeder in 2008. And according to the National Abortion Federation, more than 200 incidents of bombing or arson have occurred at clinics across the country since 1976. In simplest terms, the violent fringe of the American anti-abortion movement has been in force for decades, bolstered by ostensibly credible organizations with histories of violent radicalism.
But recent, high-profile events in the political world have intensified the attacks on Planned Parenthood even further. Back in July, a euphemistically titled anti-abortion organization called the Center for Medical Progress released the first in a series of purported Planned Parenthood sting videos, secret recordings with doctors and executives that alleged the group was illegally selling fetal tissue.
The videos were deceptively edited, and failed to establish any legal wrongdoing (while profiting off of fetal tissue is illegal, reimbursement for storage and transportation is permitted), but they successfully sent the Republican Party — including much of its presidential field — into a frenzy. Since then, there have been And, as the Huffington Post detailed back in October, the videos also fueled a spike in threats directed at abortion providers, Planned Parenthood in particular. Since the CMP began releasing videos, there have been two incidents of arson at Planned Parenthood facilities, one in Washington, and one in California.
In July, the National Abortion Federation filed a legal complaint over death threats made against abortion providers in Fox News' "Fox Nation" online forums. The organization's president, Vicki Saporta, told the Huffington Post that she's never seen things get quite this bad.
In my 20 years at NAF, I have never seen such a volume, intensity and escalation of hate speech, threats and criminal activity, and we would like to prevent a serious violent act from occurring.
In other words, the climate of tension, fear, and danger that abortion providers have been living under has been getting worse, and on Friday, one of those serious violent acts Saporta was worried about may have just unfolded in Colorado Springs. It's a looming threat that's been felt across the reproductive rights movement over the past several months — in October, NARAL Pro-Choice America petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate arson and vandalism of abortion clinics as domestic terrorism.