Planned Parenthood centers must be kept safe

The shooter who killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last week sought to take lives and do damage in a place where women go to safely seek care. There, like at other centers nationwide, women can receive gynecological exams and cancer screenings. They can request a pregnancy test or birth control. Or, they may go because they’re considering an abortion; about half of Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions.

Health care professionals provide these services legally to women who, in some cases, might not get any medical attention otherwise because of their income or the scarcity of such facilities where they live.

Last Friday, those efforts were violently disrupted. The suspected shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, apparently told investigators, “No more baby parts.” It’s unclear what his motives were or whether he suffered from mental illness. His actions may symbolize nothing more than another American tragedy.

But Friday’s horror came as the rhetoric surrounding Planned Parenthood had become ugly, full of assumptions, exaggerations and, in some cases, incorrect information. That reached a new high in the summer, with the release of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood workers discussing the use of fetal tissue for research. The anti-abortion group that posted the videos said they documented an effort to sell “baby parts,” even as Planned Parenthood noted that they were heavily edited and misconstrued. Since then, congressional representatives held hearings that added to the pile of misinformation and threatened to pull Planned Parenthood’s $500 million in federal funding, which doesn’t go to abortion services. The efforts to whip up support of the Republican base for 2016 brought a new level of hostility, anger, threats and untruths.

Planned Parenthood has been the target of protests, usually peaceful, for decades. In a society that overwhelmingly supports legal abortion but is still debating when and if some abortions should be restricted, protest and dissent is important and should be protected.

Yet, we’ve gone beyond the legitimate arguments when clinics like the one in Colorado Springs have to create fortresslike settings, with security cameras, safe rooms and bulletproof vests, to protect their staff and patients. In New York, the governor ordered a review of security at Planned Parenthood clinics after the shootings.

The attack was widely denounced. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, an abortion opponent, said, “There is no legitimizing” what happened. But no matter what Dear’s motivation, even if one becomes discernible, his destructive path in Colorado Springs is an alarming sign that we once again must pause to assess whether ugliness and mistruths have brought us to a worrisome place. Women must be able to go to the doctor, for services they’re legally entitled to, without fear. If they can’t, they may not get care at all, because often they have nowhere else to go. Keeping Planned Parenthood clinics safe shouldn’t mean installing security cameras and buying bulletproof vests. It should mean creating a safe, nonviolent environment, in clinics, in congressional hearing rooms and beyond.