Republicans bristle at criticism of Planned Parenthood rhetoric

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at a rally. Image copyright Getty Images

Republican presidential hopefuls have denounced the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting, but they dismiss allegations from the left that their recent condemnations of the nation's largest abortion provider may have provoked the attack.

In the last few days, Republican presidential candidates have called the shootings at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic a "tragedy" (Carly Fiorina), the work of a "sick person" (Donald Trump) and "senseless violence" (John Kasich).

They've offered prayers "for the loved ones of those killed" (Ted Cruz) and said there is "no acceptable explanation for this violence" (Jeb Bush).

Others, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have yet to issue a response.

When asked, however, most of the Republican presidential hopefuls have emphatically denied that the murders are in any way the result of the heated rhetoric that has swirled around Planned Parenthood on the campaign trail over the last few months.

Condemnations of the family planning organisation had become standard fare for Republican candidates ever since hidden-camera videos released in July revealed Planned Parenthood employees speaking matter-of-factly about the cost of providing tissue from aborted foetuses to research groups.

Conservatives in Congress attempted unsuccessfully to cut off government funding for Planned Parenthood's non-abortion-related healthcare services. And during the Republican presidential debates, nearly every candidate denounced the organisation.

Mr Cruz called Planned Parenthood a "criminal enterprise" whose employees have essentially confessed to committing "multiple felonies".

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Image caption Ted Cruz has called Planned Parenthood a "criminal enterprise"

"I would encourage every American to watch the videos," he said. "See your Planned Parenthood officials callously, heartlessly bartering and selling the body parts of human beings and then ask yourself, 'Are these my values?'"

Mr Bush called the videos "horrifying".

Planned Parenthood "doesn't seem to understand the sanctity of human life and is willing to destroy that," retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said.

Ms Fiorina was widely considered to have won the second Republican debate with an impassioned condemnation of what she said was shown in one of the Planned Parenthood videos.

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Image caption Alleged Colorado shooter Robert Dear is reported to have said "no more baby parts" to explain his actions

"I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes," she said. "Watch a fully formed foetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation."

The videos did not, in fact, show such an occurrence - but they did include an interview with a research technician who described something similar.

The alleged perpetrator of the Friday shootings, Robert Dear, is reported to have said "no more baby parts" after being apprehended by Colorado police - a piece of information that has been seized upon by abortion rights supporters.

"It is offensive and outrageous that some politicians are now claiming this tragedy has nothing to do with the toxic environment they helped create," Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens said in a statement on Sunday.

"One of the lessons of this awful tragedy is that words matter, and hateful rhetoric fuels violence. It's not enough to denounce the tragedy without also denouncing the poisonous rhetoric that fuelled it."

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, called the Colorado shootings "an act of terrorism".

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Image caption Carly Fiorina says attempts to link the Colorado shooting to conservative rhetoric is "typical left-wing tactics"

"Those running for president and those of us in leadership roles in our country's major political parties have an obligation to denounce these attacks and clearly say that violence and intimidation in the pursuit of ideology are not acceptable in America," she said in a press release.

Some Republican candidates have bristled at such charges.

"This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonising a messenger because they don't agree with the message," Ms Fiorina told Fox on Sunday. "What I would say to anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or opposes the sale of body parts is, this is typical left-wing tactics."

Mr Cruz said in Iowa on Sunday that there's been "vicious rhetoric" from the left trying to blame anti-abortion advocates for the assault. He said based on the little evidence so far, it's just as likely to reach other conclusions about Dear's motives.

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Image caption Mike Huckabee says there's no excuse for killing people in "clinics where many millions of babies die"

"It's also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist," he said, referring to the fact that Dear listed his gender as female in a Colorado voter registration database. "If that's what he is, I don't think it's fair to blame the rhetoric on the left."

Mr Trump, asked about Dear's reference to "baby parts", noted that there was considerable "anxiety" and "dislike" among his supporters for Planned Parenthood.

"There is a tremendous group of people that think it's terrible, all of the videos that they've seen with some of these people from Planned Parenthood talking about it like you're selling parts to a car," he said. "There are a lot of people that are very unhappy about that."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called the attack "domestic terrorism" - although he made sure to point out what he views as the nature of abortion.

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Image caption Ben Carson says political opponents need to understand that they are not enemies

"There's no excuse for killing other people, whether it's happening inside the Planned Parenthood headquarters, inside their clinics where many millions of babies die or whether it's people attacking Planned Parenthood," he told CNN on Sunday.

When asked about the increasingly sharp accusations, Mr Carson called for cooler heads to prevail.

"We must somehow manage to regain the high ground and understand that we're not each other's enemies, even though we may have some differences of opinions about things," he said on NBC. "Let's stop trying to destroy each other."

With the Colorado shootings taking place in the middle of a heated presidential campaign season and the US Supreme Court set to hear the first major abortion-related case in eight years, however, the high ground seems very far away.

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