The attack at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic that killed a police officer and two other people suggests that both sides of the abortion debate in the United States need to “tone down the rhetoric,” the state's governor said on Sunday.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke the morning after unnamed law enforcement authorities told NBC News and other media that the suspected gunman had muttered “no more baby parts” when he was arrested after an hours-long standoff at the Colorado Springs clinic.
Planned Parenthood provides a range of health services for men and women, including abortion.
The remark attributed to 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear appeared to be a reference to Planned Parenthood's abortion activities and its role in delivering fetal tissue to researchers, a hot-button issue in the 2016 race for the presidency.
Hickenlooper told CNN that the shooting and similar acts of mass violence might be a function of the “inflammatory rhetoric we see on all levels,” referring to the heated debate over abortion.
“I think we should have a discussion at least urging caution when we discuss some of these issues, so we don’t get people to a point of going out and committing violence,” he said, describing the rampage as “a form of terrorism.”
The shooting on Friday was believed to be the first deadly attack at an abortion provider in the United States in six years. The Colorado Springs center has been repeatedly targeted for protests by anti-abortion activists.
While Dear's reported remarks could hint at a possible motive, authorities have steadfastly declined to discuss a possible motive for the attack, saying their investigation was still underway.
Dear, a former resident of North and South Carolina who appeared to have moved to Colorado last year, has been jailed ahead of a court appearance scheduled for Monday.
Planned Parenthood, however, suggested that the reports were clear evidence of a motive.
“We now know the man responsible for the tragic shooting at PP's health center in CO was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion,” the organization said on Twitter.
While calling the shooting “an incredible tragedy,” Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on Sunday dismissed talk that harsh anti-abortion rhetoric may have contributed to the attack. But he also drew a direct parallel between the attack and abortion.
“There’s no excuse for killing other people, whether it’s inside … Planned Parenthood clinics, where many millions of babies die, or whether it’s people attacking Planned Parenthood,” the former Arkansas governor told CNN, saying the attack was an act of “domestic terrorism.”
Abortion opponents stepped up their criticism of Planned Parenthood this year after officials of the organization were secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group discussing how to obtain human tissue from aborted fetuses. The nonprofit organization has strongly denied doing anything illegal or unethical.