aNewDomain commentary — Another mass shooting. Another national conversation about gun violence.
Another discussion that misses the point.
Liberals and supporters of gun control are blaming right-wing rhetoric — as currently uttered by the major Republican candidates for president — for creating a volatile atmosphere that sets off psychologically fragile people like the man who opened fire at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado, and the gun industry for making it too easy to buy heavy-duty, military-style weapons. Conservatives and Second Amendment proponents respond that nuts will be nuts no matter what.
Actually, we should worry less about heated rhetoric and more about lies.
In The Guardian, the feminist columnist Jessica Valenti asks:
Do we really think that there are no consequences to claiming that abortion is murder, or that Planned Parenthood is an organization of money-hungry monsters selling baby parts?” On the right, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said: “I think that’s a little bit disingenuous on the part of Planned Parenthood to blame people who have a strong philosophical disagreement with the dismembering of human babies and with the selling of body parts to say that we would like to retaliate by sending some madman into a clinic to kill people.”
We need to separate opinions from issues of fact.
Is abortion murder? That’s a matter of opinion. If you believe in freedom of speech, you don’t ask people not to express their opinion.
Does Planned Parenthood sell baby parts? The answer is yes or no.
According to the polls, most Americans believe that life begins at conception. (I’m one of them.) If life begins with cellular division, abortion is the murder of an unborn child. It is far from unreasonable for people who hold that belief — which is not an unreasonable belief — to pull out all the stops to try to prevent such an abomination. (My take is pro-choice, but in an unusual way: rather than argue that a fetus is not fully alive, I believe that a woman ought to have the right to murder her unborn child.)
The point is, it is perfectly reasonable for pro-lifers to feel strongly about the issue of abortion, and to oppose it passionately. No one should tell them to shut up.
What is not reasonable is to lie.
Robert Dear, the 57-year-old suspect charged with the Colorado Springs shootings, reportedly told police detectives that his motive was at least in part “no more baby parts.”
Upon hearing this, my thoughts turned immediately to GOP hopeful Carly Fiorina.
Fiorina made a big splash with her claim, since debunked, that she saw a video depicting a Planned Parenthood organ-harvesting operation. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'”
During one of the Republican debates in September, that’s what Fiorina herself said she personally saw in a video of a Planned Parenthood clinic.
But it’s not true.
There is video of a fetus outside the womb, but it wasn’t taken at Planned Parenthood. It was spliced in. “We don’t know the circumstances behind this video: where it came from, under what conditions it was obtained, or even if this fetus was actually aborted (as opposed to a premature birth or miscarriage),” notes Politifact.
Fiorina hasn’t admitted she lied. Today, in fact, she attacked those who tie Dear’s attacks to what he says they’re about: “This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message,” she said.
If Dear was inspired by Fiorina — given the timing, it’s a fair guess that he was — what we really should be asking is, does Planned Parenthood really sell fetus/baby parts? After all, it’s terrible to murder someone over something they’ve actually done — but somehow even worse when they didn’t do it at all.
The short answer is no.
Abortion patients sometimes authorize Planned Parenthood to donate tissue — baby parts, if you will — to medical researchers. When money changes hand, it’s only to cover shipping expenses. Planned Parenthood never makes a profit.
If Ronald Dear murdered three people, including a police officer, over something that simply doesn’t happen — Planned Parenthood selling aborted “baby parts” at a profit — politicians like Fiorina share some of the blame, for winding him up.
If he had done the same thing merely because he believed abortion is murder, I’d be the first to say she’s morally off the hook.
Whether it’s Donald Trump’s complaints about Mexicans streaming across the border into the United States — actually, more Mexicans leave the U.S. to return home than come here — or Hillary Clinton pretending that Edward Snowden could have been protected by federal whistleblower laws — it is highly disturbing to watch this year’s crop of presidential candidates willing to knowingly and brazenly lie.
Heated rhetoric is fine. The lies are gross — and dangerous.
Cover image of Planned Parenthood shooting suspect, Robert Dear: Colorado Springs Police Department