After the shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last Friday, several have placed blame on pro-life advocates who have been campaigning against Planned Parenthood. Their campaign has become more aggressive since undercover videos revealing Planned Parenthood’s values and practices were released earlier this year. Many have urged pro-life advocates to tone down what they call extreme rhetoric, inflammatory language, and hateful speech.
Are pro-life advocates to blame for this shooting? Should we tone down our rhetoric? While we must always keep in mind that we are accountable to God for every word we say (including on social media!), the argument being touted against the pro-life rhetoric suffers from several flaws.
Those claiming that pro-life rhetoric leads people to act violently do not apply this argument to other situations. If harsh rhetoric is what leads people to mass violence, what rhetoric was to blame for the mass shooting in Oregon earlier this year? Or the other mass shootings that have occurred in the last several years?
When the Mormon Church affirmed they would not baptize children of gay couples, the rhetoric against them was shocking. But there have not been any mass shootings at Mormon Temples yet. In fact, some of the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood defenders has been pretty extreme and often false. Pro-life advocates are labeled extremists who do not want women to have access to health care. Some have even compared them to terrorist groups. Will that lead to some unstable feminist going to the Right to Life headquarters and opening fire? Why is it only this instance in which rhetoric leads to violence?
When does the rhetoric cross the line into “extreme”? If the pro-life movement was campaigning with slogans like “Go to any length to stop abortion” or “Stop abortion by any means possible” then they should rightly be charged with encouraging vigilante action. But the phrases that are being opposed are ones like “abortion is murder” and “Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.” Are those extreme? They may seem that way to those who defend abortion, but do they get to decide where the boundary lies? Many blaming pro-life rhetoric would only be satisfied when the slogans are things like “Abortion is complicated, but we are personally opposed to it” or “Planned Parenthood has received compensation for fetal tissue.” It’s easy to throw out general accusations of extreme rhetoric and inflammatory language, but without providing specific examples or parameters it is ultimately unhelpful.
The argument that pro-life rhetoric is to blame for the Colorado Springs shooting could be summarized like this. Pro-life rhetoric has made it seem like Planned Parenthood is an evil organization that is responsible for horribly evil actions. Thus, it should not surprise anyone that someone would want to take matters into their own hands to stop this organization. Therefore, pro-life advocates should stop portraying Planned Parenthood as an evil organization that is responsible for horribly evil actions.
If that argument is true, it could be used against those blaming pro-life rhetoric. They have made it seem like pro-life advocates are an evil group that is responsible for horribly evil actions (violence against abortion providers). Thus, it should not surprise anyone that someone would want to take matters into their own hands to stop pro-life advocates. Therefore, they should stop portraying pro-life advocates as an evil group that is responsible for horribly evil actions.
If their argument that pro-life rhetoric leads to violence is true, they should refrain from making the claim in public. “But,” you say, “we have to let people know this group’s actions are leading to violence in order to get them to stop.” Exactly. Which leads to the final flaw.
Begging the Question
Many blaming pro-life rhetoric for the shootings in Colorado Springs are just trying to score political points. But some are genuinely concerned about the loss of human life. They want to do what is necessary in order to guard against human lives being wrongfully destroyed. But that is exactly what pro-life advocates are trying to do.
Imagine a corporation in your city that is pumping toxic waste into a local river, risking the lives of individuals in the area as well as the environment as a whole. Let’s say you started a public campaign against this corporation, with slogans like “This company is killing our city” and “This company loves money more than people.” Suppose some insane person decides to take matters into his own hands and goes to the board meeting to try to kill the CEO. The company blames you for this action, urging you to tone down your rhetoric. Yet you know they are continuing to dump their toxins into the river. Though you would certainly be upset that someone tried to kill the CEO, and you would publicly condemn that action, wouldn’t you have to continue letting people know what this company is doing?
To ask us to stop saying that abortion is murder only makes sense if abortion is not the wrongful termination of a human life. But it is murder, so we have to continue to call it what it is. We grieve that 3 human lives were taken last week in the shooting, and we grieve that Planned Parenthood ends almost 900 human lives every day. We grieve that 11 people have had their lives destroyed through attacks on abortion clinics since Roe V. Wade, and we grieve that over 55 million babies have had their lives destroyed in that same amount of time. And because we care about human life, we must continue to speak out.