As lawmakers head back to Capitol Hill on Monday, they’re coming under some pressure to change their harsh rhetoric about Planned Parenthood in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at one of the organization’s clinics on Friday.
“It is time to stop the demonizing and witch hunts against Planned Parenthood, its staff and patients,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said after news of the shooting broke.
Planned Parenthood has long been a political target — but the crusade against the organization heated up over the past several months, thanks to a video campaign that accuses Planned Parenthood of selling “aborted baby parts.” Those videos, which were released by an anti-abortion group with ties to some of the most extreme activists in the country, led to multiple hearings in Washington and calls to scrutinize Planned Parenthood’s activities.
Now, there are currently five separate congressional committees dedicated to investigating Planned Parenthood, including a special panel that has drawn direct comparisons to the panel that spent millions of taxpayer dollars investigating Benghazi. So far, these investigations haven’t turned up any credible evidence that Planned Parenthood has actually broken any laws.
But reproductive rights proponents say the video campaign has facilitated a dangerous environment of suspicion around Planned Parenthood that could fuel attacks against the group. Since the videos were first released, there’s been an increase of arson and vandalism at Planned Parenthood clinics. And on Friday, the alleged Planned Parenthood shooter appeared to reference the issue at the heart of the videos: “No more baby parts,” he reportedly told authorities.
“We’ve seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months,” Vicki Cowart, the president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said on Sunday. “That environment breeds acts of violence.”
The rhetoric on Capitol Hill certainly hasn’t been very kind to Planned Parenthood in recent months. One of the recent hearings convened by the House Judiciary Committee, for example, was entitled “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” Multiple GOP presidential candidates have called the organization barbaric and urged the American public to be outraged about the misleading videos.
Reproductive rights supporters argue that this type of inflammatory language helps dehumanize abortion providers, which in turn makes them easier targets. There is some evidence that attacks on abortion become more likely in hostile environments. A 2012 study, for instance, found that anti-abortion harassment is associated with states that have harsh restrictions on abortion.
But it’s unclear whether Republican leaders — many of whom were slow to comment on the shooting — will change their tune anytime soon. A spokesperson for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new House speaker, said over the weekend that Friday’s tragic shooting would not change the investigating committee’s plans to continue probing Planned Parenthood.