By Gregory B. Hladky
Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation said Monday the killing of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic is increasing fear and tension across the U.S. and at similar clinics in this state.
“It’s still early,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. “But if the intent here is to intimidate others into walking away from reproductive health services, it certainly looks like a terrorist act.”
Several Connecticut lawmakers also warned that extreme anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric by some Republican presidential candidates may be contributing to an environment that can lead to violence.
“The escalating frequency of threats and harassment across the country raises apprehensions in Connecticut,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.
But J.R. Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, said some Democratsare seeking to politicize the tragedy. “These are moments of mourning, not moments to score political points,” he said. “What’s tragic is when you have political entities latching on to this to push a narrative.”
Romano said mental illness, not anti-abortion rhetoric, is the main issue. “But no one wants to address mental health issues, they just keep getting swept under the rug,” he said.
The attack at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado highlighted the security measures that some abortion providers are taking to protect their patients and staff, including installing sophisticated security cameras.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which serves about 64,000 patients in Connecticut each year, works closely with state and local law enforcement officials, said spokeswoman Kafi Rouse. “We regularly assess our security measures and train our employees,” she added, declining to discuss specific safety measures in detail.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, said she spoke with officials of her local Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven Monday and was assured they “felt good about their security.”
Blumenthal and others in the Connecticut delegation are also worried that the “ferocity of the rhetoric” by some Republican presidential candidates may be “escalating the threats against Planned Parenthood.”
“Demagogic, hateful language raises the risk everywhere,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4. “There are folks on the margin who will act on it,” he said. “Sadly, I think it may have been a contributing factor to what happened in Colorado.”
Chris O’Brien, vice president of CT Right to Life, condemned the Colorado shootings and “any act against abortion clinics, abortionists or clinic workers… Violence against any person contradicts the pro-life movement’s mission of building a culture of love and hope.”
Murphy said he doesn’t believe anyone can “draw a straight line between the rhetoric of the Republican candidates and murder.” But he also said he has no doubt “that the Republicans are lying through their teeth about Planned Parenthood.”
“I don’t think the incendiary rhetoric of those presidential candidates [is] helpful,” said U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5, said the harsh anti-Planned Parenthood claims by GOP candidates “increases the incivility… and for unstable people, it can increase their emotional response.”
Esty said that in this type of atmosphere, “when [unstable individuals] have access to firearms, it can have dangerous consequences.” She said the apparent increase in mass shootings in recent years has left her “concerned about safety in the U.S. right now, not just Connecticut.”
“The focus, the attention, the vitriol and rhetoric with regard to Planned Parenthood… can inflame someone who may want to take action,” said DeLauro. “It makes the environment hateful.”
Blumenthal and Esty were reluctant to label this weekend’s shootings at the clinic in Colorado Springs a “terrorist” act, saying more needs to be known about the killer’s motivation.
But Larson said he believes “there is more than an element of domestic terrorism afoot in this country.”
The man accused in the Colorado shootings, Robert Lewis Dear, 57, allegedly used the term “no more baby parts” to law enforcement authorities following his arrest.
Blumenthal cited a letter he wrote in August to U.S. Department of Justice officials warning there appeared to be “a targeted campaign attacking the services Planned Parenthood provides.” Blumenthal pointed to this summer’s release of “surreptitiously recorded videos” that abortion opponents claimed showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the for-profit sale of baby body parts.
Planned Parenthood officials flatly denied the claims, but congressional Republicans have launched multiple investigations and several GOP candidates have made heated statements on the issue during presidential debates.
“When a candidate for president falsely… describes the beating heart of a fetus [being offered for sale] it certainly contributes to a climate of rhetoric that inflames hostility toward Planned Parenthood,” said Blumenthal. He was referring to comments made during a debate by GOP candidate Carly Fiorina concerning the alleged “harvesting of baby parts.”
In Connecticut Monday, Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, praised “the several hundred staff and volunteers at Planned Parenthood centers across the state who opened their doors today undeterred.”
“Nearly 60,000 people enter one of Planned Parenthood’s 17 Connecticut centers each year for basic health care needs,” Treiss said in a statement. “And whether a woman is exercising her Constitutional right to an abortion or seeking one of the many other basic health care needs Planned Parenthood offers, she should not be prevented by violence, threats or intimidation.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is planning to make a visit Tuesday to Planned Parenthood’s Connecticut administrative office in New Haven and meet with the staff there.