Three people were killed on the afternoon of Friday November 28 when a gunman opened fire at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO. Later identified as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, the motives for the murderer’s attack are still unclear, although a recent increase in threats against Planned Parenthood centers has invited suggestions that anti-abortion motives played a significant role in his actions.
This initially began as mere speculation, yet contrary to the skepticism that initially met the news from some pro-life quarters, the authorities have affirmed that “Robert Lewis Dear mentioned “baby parts” to investigators and in later interviews expressed anti-abortion and anti-government views.”
In other words, Dear’s ends were, in their own violent and chaotic way, political. He seemingly wanted to terrorize the employees and patients of the clinic, to scare them and other pro-choice advocates from ever providing abortions, asking for them, or engaging in the trade of fetal tissue. By extension, he wanted to pressure the debate surrounding abortion and Planned Parenthood towards a more pro-life stance.
Of course, he may simply be a hate-filled aggressor. He may be someone who detested practitioners of abortion so much he wanted to hurt them, to revenge them for all the unborn fetuses/children they’ve terminated/killed. This profile would be supported by available accounts of how he lived prior to the attack. Speaking of him soon after its occurrence, a neighbor stated that when he talked, “nothing with him was very cognitive — topics all over place,” while his ex-wife accused him of hitting her and pushing her out of a window in 1997.
However, regardless of his lucidity, or the coherence of his particular aims, his heinous crime has at least reminded us of one salient point. It’s shown us, once again, that a ‘pro-life’ position doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pro all human life.
Dear may indeed support the inalienable value of all the unborn embryos that can’t defend themselves against abortion, but he doesn’t support the inalienable value of the police officer and two civilians who couldn’t defend themselves from his gunfire. It seems that, rather than uphold the sanctity of every human life, as his pro-life views may have urged us all to do, he made a distinction that permitted him to kill three people and hospitalize nine others.
In this he’s a complete hypocrite. He’s contradicted and undermined his own apparent point of view, and he’s brought himself to the same murderous level of immorality that he ostensibly perceives in the clinic he shot up.
Not only that, but he’s provided further fuel for the contention that “pro-life” is in many cases a misnomer. Claimed by some to represent the view that “the value of individual human life isn’t, cannot be, contingent or qualified,” it increasingly seems to have a bearing only on the issue of abortion, rather than on questions of defense, crime or Syrian refugees. As such, it increasingly comes across as little more than a self-aggrandizing, self-glorifying label for a general “anti-abortion” position, whether this position be soft- or hard-line.
Even though self-professed ‘pro-lifers’ do indeed run the whole gamut of political and personal views, the shooting in Colorado insinuates that it’s simply a noble disguise for an ignoble stance that would simply oppose abortion. As evinced by a recent Gallup poll, 88% of people who identify as “pro-life” are either for abortion being legal in only a “few circumstances” or being “illegal in all circumstances,” as opposed to the combined 9% who would assent to abortion being legal in “most circumstances” or “any circumstance.”
Given this high percentage of people who are pro-life only insofar as they’d prefer to restrict women from taking a fuller control of their bodies and lives, it’s tempting to allege that the typical pro-lifer is a misogynistic, anti-women partisan attempting to maintain a patriarchal form of society. He evidently wants to keep women locked in their primary role as subordinate mothers, and accordingly he wants to stamp out anything that might liberate her. This is why he can kill people in cold blood, since he cares less about ‘life’ than about stopping women, and perhaps people in general, from exercising the kinds of freedom he detests.
This strident claim might just about be tenable with regards to some pro-life groups that oppose birth control, such as the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, yet it seems, however, that many individual pro-lifers are in fact supportive of contraceptives. It’s therefore difficult to argue that pro-lifers generally want to deny women the right to choose when exactly to start a family, or that they aren’t genuinely moved by the predicament itself of a defenseless fetus/child.
That said, recent surveys indicate that most people in the US who are Christian are pro-life, whereas most ‘non-religious’ people are pro-choice. This would suggest that Christianity is a strong predictor of anti-abortion views. Similarly, around 68% of Republicans identify as pro-life, which would once again suggest that Republicanism and conservatism are strong predictors of these views as well.
In light of these statistics, it’s possible to declare that a pro-life/anti-abortion stance is not something to be taken in isolation, a single self-contained belief that an individual has arrived at via the focused contemplation of reproduction. Instead, it appears to be part of an entire edifice of belief, a register of one’s position in a particular community with its particular traditions and values.
If this is the case, then the defense of pro-life sentiments is as much a defense of the religion(s) and group(s) out of which such sentiments have arisen. It’s a defense of such beliefs as that of a Creator and the idea that life is “a gift from our Creator,” who alone decrees when people shall be born and when they shall die. Added to this, it’s also a defense of the Republican party and its platforms, of the conservative political groups who feel duty-bound by political history to attach themselves to particular causes and who don’t want to detach themselves for fear of losing face and credibility.
This means that, as with all defenses, the pro-life stance is a defense against anyone who would live in a way that undermines Christian and Republican values. Insofar as it does so strive to defend Christian or conservative morality from transgression, it’s an anti-atheistic, anti-liberal posture as well a pro-life one, in that it seeks to stop liberals and atheists (among others) from doing things that jeopardize Christianity or conservatism.
And this, arguably, is what Robert Lewis Dear was trying to do when he entered the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. It’s likely that he detested the non-profit organization not only because of allegations that it sold fetal tissue, but because it represented a way of life that violated and imperiled his own beliefs, be these specifically Christian or generally conservative. He harbored resentment for liberal attitudes, lifestyles and freedoms, but rather than confront them by positively arguing for a pro-life worldview, he negatively attacked them in one of the most violent ways imaginable. It’s for this reason that he’s emphatically more ‘anti-abortion’, ‘anti-woman’ and ‘anti-liberal’ than ‘pro’ anything.
Fortunately, the vast majority of pro-lifers are nowhere near as inflammatory and dangerous in their opposition to abortion as Dear. However, they’d be wise to protect their ‘pro-life’ creeds from becoming little more than a smokescreen for rancorous views that are simply ‘anti-this’ or ‘anti-that’, since as the tragic events in Colorado have shown, purely negative views can have catastrophic results.