November 30, 2015

Criticism of ‘rhetoric that equates abortion with murder’

At least one abortion rights group in New Mexico is calling for anti-abortion activists to take some responsibility for the shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood this weekend, while anti-abortion activists say they decry the violence.

Planned Parenthood

Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, told NM Political Report that Protest ABQ and other anti-abortion activists should take at least some responsibility for the attitude that she thinks led to the shooting. She said problems arise “when you use rhetoric that equates abortion with murder.”

Following news reports of the shooting in Colorado Springs, Protest ABQ released a statement condemning the attacks.

“Our prayers go out to all those involved today in the senseless shooting at the Planned Parenthood located in Colorado Springs, Colorado,” the statement read. “We continue to pray for the law enforcement officers and all of those who were shot and for the safety of those currently responding to this ongoing situation.”

Tara Shaver, a cofounder of Protest ABQ, told NM Political Report her group will not change their activities based on what happened in Colorado.

“We have a responsibility here in New Mexico to continue to protest,” Shaver said.

“There’s some real responsibility there,” Sanford said of the Shavers and other associated groups.

Shaver and her husband Bud previously worked with Operation Rescue, a Kansas-based group.

Operation Rescue itself faced criticism for ties to the man who murdered George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions in Kansas, in 2009. The man, Scott Roeder, shot Tiller during a church service. Roeder had the cell phone number of Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior policy adviser. Sullenger herself had been convicted for plotting a bombing of a clinic that provided abortions.

Another co-founder of Protest ABQ, Father Stephen Imbarrato, issued a statement denying that his group promotes any type of violence.

“Those of us who protest pre-born child killing with Protest ABQ and Protest Child Killing never condone any act of violence, indeed we are protesting the violent act of abortion that kills pre-born children in the womb. We are committed to peacefully protesting this violence,” Imbarrato said.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which has its headquarters in Denver and oversees offices in New Mexico, released a statement on behalf of its president Vicki Cowart saying they plan to continue offering their services.

“We share the concerns of many Americans that the continued attacks against abortion providers and patients, as well as law enforcement officers, is creating a poisonous environment that breeds acts of violence. But, we will never back away from providing critical health care to millions of people who rely on and trust us every day,” Cowart said.

Earlier this year, NM Political Report spoke with Cowart about security concerns at the group’s centers. Cowart said the group was warned of possible attacks by the FBI and local law enforcement was working with the group’s security team.

Still, Shaver is not completely convinced that Planned Parenthood was the intended target of the attack last week.

“There seems to still be a lot of speculation,” Shaver said of the gunman’s motives.

Reports since the attack have not specified the motives behind the attack, though they have quoted the gunman as saying “no more baby parts” after his arrest.

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, told NM Political Report the attacks in Colorado were “the most horrific attack in the history of us recording violence against abortion providers.”

“People in communities can change the dialogue,” Saporta said. “You had a hostage situation which has not occurred before.”

Joey Peters contributed to this report.

Correction: Updated Joan Lamunyon Sanford’s name