Anti-abortion groups condemn Planned Parenthood shooting

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Father Bill Carmody and others gather for a Mass near Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs in 2014. Photo courtesy of Michele Mason

Father Bill Carmody and others gather for a Mass near Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs in 2014. Photo courtesy of Michele Mason

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (RNS) Since Mother’s Day in 1994, Catholic priest Bill Carmody has led weekly Masses outside Planned Parenthood facilities in Colorado Springs, including the one where a gunman killed three people last Friday (Nov. 27).

In fact, Carmody had been in the parking lot with a handful of protesters just two hours before the shooting, and he learned about it when people texted him to make sure he was not hurt.

“I am absolutely heartbroken about this,” he said on Monday. “I’m against all violence, and whether you’re in the womb or outside the womb, killing’s wrong.”

Catholic priest Bill Carmody. Photo courtesy of Diocese of Colorado Springs

Catholic priest Bill Carmody, who led a weekly Mass in the parking lot of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility where a gunman killed three people on Nov. 27. Photo courtesy of Diocese of Colorado Springs

Carmody heads the local chapter of Respect Life, one of many anti-abortion groups that have organized daily protests outside Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, which relocated to a high-security facility in 2010.

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Police have not commented on the gunman’s motive. But when he surrendered, he reportedly talked about “no more body parts,” a possible reference to undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials allegedly offering to sell the remains of aborted fetuses.

The suspect, Robert L. Dear, who lived 65 miles away in a ramshackle shelter near the small mountain town of Hartsel, was known for keeping to himself, having run-ins with neighbors and the law, and handing out anti-Obama brochures.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that his ex-spouse Barbara Micheau described him in a divorce proceeding in the early 1990s as a philanderer, gambler and wife-beater who believed he could do whatever he wanted because the end times were at hand.

“He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions,” Micheau is quoted as saying. “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.”

Carmody, the priest, who has been with Respect Life for 25 years, said the suspect was not affiliated with it. And he drew a clear distinction with other types of protesters he has seen outside the clinic “who promoted hate, not love.” His group is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Some commentators are suggesting that the suspect may have felt egged on by the violent imagery used by activists and conservative leaders, who equate abortion with mass murder.

“There will always be the irrational and the unstable,” wrote Washington Post commentator Dana Milbank. “But when political leaders turn disagreements into all-out war, demonize opponents as enemies and accuse those on the other side of being subhuman killers, the unbalanced can hear messages that were never intended.”

Colorado Springs, once described as the ground zero of the anti-gay rights movement, has been called “the Vatican of evangelical Christianity.” It is the headquarters of dozens of evangelical ministries.

Focus on the Family, the most prominent anti-abortion group headquartered locally, condemned the attack. Its president, Jim Daly, called it “tragic and deplorable.”

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“It has always been our philosophy to condemn violence and to treat people with respect, including those who disagree with you,” said Carrie Gordon Earll, the group’s vice president of public policy.

While she said Focus’ employees and associates may participate in anti-abortion protests, its main goal is getting pro-life legislation passed, including laws that eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) police officer Garrett Swasey, who was killed when a gunman stormed a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Colorado Springs Handout photo courtesy of University of Colorado via Reuters

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police officer Garrett Swasey, who was killed when a gunman stormed a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Colorado Springs. Handout photo courtesy of University of Colorado via Reuters

“We help people with pro-life convictions to be good citizens, and to influence passage of pro-life measures, whether through state legislatures, or Congress, or ballot issues,” Gorden Earll said.

She said these efforts have contributed to a decline in the number of abortions reported in the U.S., from 1.4 million in 1990 to 730,322 in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available from the Centers for Disease Control.

The Planned Parenthood tragedy was the second mass shooting in a month for Colorado Springs, and the three victims Friday included a veteran of the Iraq war, a mother of two who was married to an Iraq war veteran, and an elder from Hope Chapel, a local evangelical congregation.

Carmody’s activism may have inadvertently kept the death toll from going even higher. Planned Parenthood’s move to a new location five years ago – with extra security measures both inside and outside – was apparently aimed at separating protesters like him from clinic staff and patients.

“Now, our sidewalk counselors can’t get close enough to talk to them,” said Carmody.

The priest said he has canceled his protest Mass this Friday, when the funeral is scheduled for University of Colorado police officer Garrett Swasey, who was killed responding to the shooting.

“That would be in very poor taste,” he said, adding that he does plan to be back in front of the clinic the following week.

(Steve Rabey is a contributor to RNS.)

  • Ben in oakland

    “Many” Condemned the shooting.

    Many, indeed.

  • Be Brave

    Killing others and murder is not the answer to anger and absolute difference. The stance’s on both sides of the abortion tragedy will not look to themselves for blame in what this murderer did. But it is the language of denigration that causes people like “the suspect” to cross the line. There is nothing wrong with never agreeing with someone or their choices, but what we are witnessing now is always present human nature being unleashed by the power of hate.

  • Radical rhetoric and constant protests contribute to radical murder. The killer is a terrorist and am sorry that he was not killed. That is the only thing that will stop these terrorists. Their holy course is nothing but murder in the name of God. Reminds me of the Salem Witches hysteria. The radicals always know better, right?

  • Larry

    Pure CYA and doubletalk. The anti-abortion crowd gets a little squeamish when their own rhetoric and actions bring negative publicity.

    Ongoing campaigns of harassment, death threats, property damage, defamatory attacks and coercion will continue unabated. They have always used terror tactics in the past, they continue to do so.

    What we saw was a perfect example of the immoral nature of religious based actions. Any action, including murder is justified if one is doing it for a holy cause.

    At no point will anti-abortion groups temper their language or actions to something respectful of the rights and lives of people outside their own circle. Their condemnation is demonstratively phony and self-serving.

  • Bingo

    “Any action, including murder is justified if one is doing it for a holy cause.” You sir, also have a religion and act on that religion, ie., religious-based actions. You may call it your life philosophy, your passion, your idol(s), your values, whatever. But there are things you have a religious devotion to. Natures abhors a vacuum, and we all fill it with something. If “religion” drove this nut case to do what he did, then his conception of truth or religion is faulty. Religion is no more to blame for this man’s actions than “cars” are to blame for my tire blowing out.

  • Larry

    “But there are things you have a religious devotion to.”

    Nothing I would claim as an excuse for pretending bad acts are somehow moral. I do not outsource moral considerations to arbitrary authority.

    The conception of morality framed by religion has always been faulty. Especially from a Christian POV. It mistakes self-interest and compliance with arbitrary authority with moral behavior. Morality is not doing something out of consideration of personal consequences, nor is it blindly following rules without reflection. It is acting even when not in one’s interest.

    Religion provides the socially acceptable excuse for bad behavior here. A way to avoid taking responsibility for committing immoral acts.

    At no point will the anti-abortion crowd temper their actions nor their rhetoric in a way which demonstrates respect to others or moral limits to their actions. Their “condemnation” is worthless and hollow.

  • Debbo

    Brave said, “stance’s on both sides of the abortion tragedy will not look to themselves for blame.”

    How do the people who believe that women are autonomous adults with the right to control their own bodies deserve any blame for that ‘Christian’s’ act of terrorism? What did they do to incite him? They didn’t call anyone involved in constitutionally legal behavior a murderer. They didn’t advocate violence against those who disagree with them.

    You missed that one Brave.

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  • Be Brave

    Abortion by its very action is pure violence on a human life. That some people dare to take away the life of another person for their own selfish reasons does not put the blame for the murder on anyone but the murderer and those that actually assist the murderer in the act of murder.

    Opposing abortion is not murder. And never will be. Hopefully anyway.

  • larry

    Thank you for demonstrating these “condemnations” are dishonest garbage. You have no problem with murder in service of your religious agenda. American ISIS.

    The anti abortion crowd’s fetus worship has no regard for born people. They look to excuse mayhem, rather than honestly address it.

    You don’t have a regard for human life. Just infantile notions if “innocence”.

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  • Debbo

    Brave, you didn’t respond to what I asked. My questions were about how you blamed the pro-women, pro-choice people that terrorist to shoot people. Are you trying to blame adults who followed the law? Or are you now saying you were wrong about saying that?

    Just a reminder, here again is what you said:

    “stance’s on both sides of the abortion tragedy will not look to themselves for blame.”

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