We wrote earlier in our 2015 top stories recap about Sen. Cory Gardner’s audacious flip-flop on abortion in the 2014 U.S. Senate election, and how the defense of Gardner by a large segment of Colorado’s political press and pundit corps was discredited in 2015 as Gardner repeatedly cast votes that made liars of his defenders. In Colorado politics as in Washington D.C., “mainstream” Republican abortion politics follow a predictable pattern of denial in election season, followed by an intense push to restrict abortion rights in off years.
2015 may be the last year this cycle is allowed to continue in Colorado.
After Gardner’s U.S. Senate victory in 2014, in which both his and by extension the GOP’s anti-abortion agenda was successfully downplayed, abortion figured centrally in Colorado politics in 2015. During the legislative session, Republican lawmakers once again introduced a bevy of anti-choice bills, from outright bans on abortion to the kinds of “regulations” that have had the effect of closing most abortion clinics in states like Texas. The summer-long release of heavily edited undercover videos from an anti-abortion group linked to Operation Rescue re-inflamed right-wing passions, and sent Republicans at every level of government in America into a fresh hyperbolic tizzy over the evils of the so-called “abortion industry.”
Anyone who actually believed the indignant downplaying of abortion in 2014 by Colorado Republicans could see in 2015’s contrived freakout stone-cold proof of the lie they were fed. But it was about to be cast in even sharper relief.
On November 27th of 2015, a man described as an ardently right-wing loner with a history of criminal trouble appeared at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and began shooting. Clinic workers quickly moved staff and patients behind locked doors. Responding police officers were shot, and an afternoon-long standoff ensued. Just before the 5PM newscasts began, Robert Dear surrendered to police just as they prepared to storm the clinic.
Robert Dear killed three people at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on November 27th, one police officer and two civilians. Five more police officers and four other civilians were shot but survived. During the standoff and immediately after Dear’s surrender, Republican lawmakers local and across the nation tried to disavow any connection between their politics and Dear’s killing spree—even claiming that Dear was a “transgendered leftist activist” based on a typographical error in his voter registration. Local Rep. Kit Roupe falsely claimed that Dear’s actions were “a failed bank robbery gone wild.”
Within a few days, these denials of any connection between Dear and the extreme rhetoric against Planned Parenthood in recent months had completely fallen apart. Under questioning, Dear readily confessed to having targeted the clinic, claiming his motivation was “no more baby parts.” Dear announced at his arraignment hearing that he is a “warrior for the babies,” and proudly proclaimed his (lack of) guilt. Subsequent interviews with neighbors and associates made it clear that Dear was a radicalized right-wing domestic terrorist who knew exactly what he was doing and why.
Dear’s terror attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs threw the anti-abortion right wing that had previously been riding high on the strength of the undercover video campaign against the organization into chaos. While nobody should consider Republican anti-abortion rhetoric criminally responsible for Dear’s actions, the link between that rhetoric and Dear’s violence is undeniable. The claims in the undercover videos attacking Planned Parenthood have been thoroughly discredited with no acknowledgement from Republicans who spent most of 2015 demagoguing them. The extreme rhetoric used by Republicans to describe those misleading videos can easily be construed as incitement to violence.
But so far in 2016, the anti-Planned Parenthood crusade shows no signs of slowing—a potentially marked contrast to 2014, when Republicans sought to bury the issue through the election. Not even this terror attack on Planned Parenthood appears to have slowed the appetite among Colorado Republicans to attack abortion rights this year, even as their counterparts in Washington, D.C. nervously retrench. We expect to see the full range of anti-choice legislation, gratuitous “fact finding” hearings, and other public grandstands by Colorado Republicans to keep the abortion fight center stage through the 2016 elections.
If they keep to that course, the abortion issue could yet produce a greater electoral disaster for Colorado Republicans than anything that has come before. And in that event, the “triumph” of 2014’s campaign of deception on abortion will look like something else entirely.