Abortion Debate Returns To Fore After Planned Parenthood Shooting

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Photo: Planned Parenthood Supporters
Abortion rights supporters stand at press conference on the Capitol steps holding signs, including some quoting some anti-abortion rhetoric.

Officials haven't yet publicly said what might have motivated a gunman to storm the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last Friday.

But many advocates for legal abortion are blaming heated rhetoric for violent incidents across the country. Even President Barack Obama called for more civility in the abortion debate from Paris on Tuesday.

Supporters of abortion access say the language around the issue took a sharp turn this summer. That's when a right-wing organization released sting videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood breaking laws around the fetal tissue it provided to researchers -- something the group strongly denies.

Photo: Amy Runyan-Harms Abortion Rights (STAFF)
Karen Middleton, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, speaks at a press conference on the Capitol steps.

"Since then, it's been a veritable feeding frenzy on who can be more over-the-top in their anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric," said Amy Runyan-Harms with the political group ProgressNow Colorado.

On Tuesday, Runyan-Harms led a press conference on the Capitol steps as abortion rights supporters stood behind her, holding signs quoting some of that rhetoric. One quoted a state representative who said Planned Parenthood is filled with " the demonic spirit of murder."

Earlier on Tuesday, State Rep. JoAnn Windholz posted a critique of Planned Parenthood that was soon removed. It said, in part:

Violence is never the answer, but we must start pointing out who is the real culprit. The true instigator of violence at this any Planned Parenthood facility is Planned Parenthood themselves.

Investigators haven't said anything official about accused shooter Robert Lewis Dear's political views. But advocates for abortion rights believe the location of his attack says it all.

Karen Middleton, head of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, rejects claims from conservatives that organizations like hers are using Friday's attack to try to silence their opponents.

Photo: Signs at Abortion Rights Conference (STAFF)
Some signs at Tuesday's press conference quoted anti-abortion rhetoric.

State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, says that is nonsense. Lundberg has been been one of the Legislature's most enduring critics of Planned Parenthood. He accuses abortion rights groups of jumping to conclusions about the gunman's motives, when nothing has been confirmed.

"Let alone to say that a legitimate discussion in the state Legislature on specific issues that impact Colorado law would yield a result like that is just stretching things beyond belief," Lundberg said.

Lundberg has been pursuing Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue collection program for several months.

On Tuesday, he took up the topic at a Budget Committee hearing. Lunberg questioned the state's chief medical officer about why his department hasn't done more to investigate whether Planned Parenthood has broken any Colorado laws.

The state has investigated the issue and found that Planned Parenthood and Colorado researchers are following all state laws around fetal tissue distribution, according to the health department.

But Lundberg still has concerns about the thoroughness of that probe and says he plans to take up that and issues of Planned Parenthood's funding during the next legislative session.

On the other side, abortion rights groups say they're working on bills of their own to try to address concerns around clinic violence.

So whatever the clinic attacker's motive actually was, the result is clear -- it's definitely moved abortion up the state's political agenda.