In a purposeful step away from a discussion on abortions, President Obama gave his first news conference Tuesday regarding last week's Planned Parenthood shooting, calling for a closer look at gun ownership. Republican politicians have been wary of coupling women's healthcare and gun violence, generally opting to reframe the discussion away from guns and toward mental health. But when gun-related violence is so commonplace at abortion clinics, is it the right move to not consider both equally?
Though Colorado Springs police are not directly speaking on the motive behind the Planned Parenthood attack, given the ongoing investigation, the political significance and the anti-choice rhetoric in which abortion is often politicized seems clear as ever. During his rampage, which left nine wounded and three dead — including a mother of two, a police officer, and an Iraq War veteran — shooter Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. allegedly spoke of "no more baby parts." Dear also mentioned Obama throughout a rambling statement made during his arrest.
As always, a woman's right to healthcare has been a contested topic throughout the presidential race. Candidates in the Republican Party, such as Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, have been quick to cite a series of videos in which Planned Parenthood employees were allegedly heard discussing the sale of aborted "baby parts." Those videos were thoroughly debunked by both Planned Parenthood and supporters as heavily doctored and misleading.
Just this week, Congress will once again return to a session devoted almost entirely to whether the women's health organization should be defunded. Republicans hope to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding. And they continue to assert that the Colorado Springs shooter's rhetoric and their own have nothing in common with one another.
During a press conference Monday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated that the gunman was not encouraged by the anti-abortion rhetoric circling his party, but rather acted out of "mental illness." The House Democrats assigned to the Planned Parenthood committee, however, were quick to point out the similarity between Dear's statements and those of Republicans'. According to the Denver Post, Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette stated at a press conference:
Since July, the phrase 'baby parts' or similar phrases have been used by the eight Republican members of this committee — just those eight members — 33 times. And isn't it interesting that this lone shooter used that same phrase.
Another common phrase often toted by emphatic gun rights activists is "Guns don't kill people, people do." But if there is any truth to that, you can also argue that words kill just as well. Republicans' rhetoric might have spurred this person to kill three others at an abortion clinic.
And therein lies the danger of divorcing abortion from gun violence — a political move which seems to be taking place on both sides of the aisle. This back-and-forth distracts from the reality at hand. Abortion clinics have been plagued by attacks for decades. In less than 40 years, there have been 11 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, and 186 acts of arson committed against abortion providers and clinics.
By removing the context — abortion clinics — in which this gun violence takes, politicians are also discounting the threat to women's health and to women at large. We have to start looking at these attacks not as personal vendettas carried out by lone gunmen, but as politicized actions that have stakes in both women's health and gun ownership.