The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP candidates condemn Planned Parenthood shooting but dismiss link to antiabortion rhetoric

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. (John Minchillo/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Several Republican presidential candidates on Sunday condemned the attack on a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs but stopped short of agreeing with liberal critics who say that fiery antiabortion rhetoric contributed to the shooting.

“It’s obviously a tragedy. Nothing justifies this,” former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Any protesters should always be peaceful. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or pro-life protesters.”

Calls to defund Planned Parenthood through congressional action have escalated in recent months amid a protracted national debate about the ethics of collecting fetal tissue for research.

[How Planned Parenthood actually uses its federal funding]

That dialogue was cast in a grim light after reports that the suspected Colorado gunman is said to have used the phrase “no more baby parts’’ while discussing his motives for the attack, as reported by The Washington Post on Saturday. Liberal critics of antiabortion activism have linked escalating rhetoric on the right with Friday’s attack, including Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“We’ve seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months,” Cowart said in a statement. “That environment breeds acts of violence.”

How a stricken Colorado community is reacting to shootings at Planned Parenthood

Colorado Springs, CO - NOV, 29: Jason Burtis shows emotion during a service at Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs, CO on Sunday, November 29, 2015. This was Officer Garrett Swasey's church. (Matthew Staver/For The Washington Post)

"It is offensive and outrageous that some politicians are now claiming this tragedy has nothing to do with the toxic environment they helped create," 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 fueled it."

Fiorina rejected such comments, calling them "typical left-wing tactics."

"This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message," she said. "The vast majority of Americans agree what Planned Parenthood is doing is wrong."

Fiorina took a particularly hard line against Planned Parenthood during the second Republican presidential debate, held in September. In one instance, she described “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.”

That characterization struck an emotional chord with voters but was ultimately proven to be an inaccurate representation. Though no video showing what she described was found to exist, Fiorina has held that her depiction was accurate.

Here's what we know about the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado that left three people dead. (Video: The Washington Post)

Business mogul Donald Trump called the alleged Colorado shooter a “sick person” in an interview on Sunday with NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press."

"Well, this was an extremist. And this was a man who they said prior to this was mentally disturbed,” Trump said, according to an early transcript of the interview. “So, he's a mentally disturbed person. There's no question about that.”

He added: “I will tell you, 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. “I mean, there are a lot of people that are very unhappy about that."

[How the Planned Parenthood videos set off a renewed wave of activism on abortion]

Retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson called the shooting the work of “extremism.”

“Unfortunately, there's a lot of extremism coming from all areas. It's one of the biggest problems that I think is threatening to tear our country apart,” Carson said on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, according to a transcript of the exchange. “We get into our separate corners and we hate each other, we want to destroy those with whom we disagree.”

Carson did not directly address antiabortion rhetoric but did warn of increasing political divisions in the country.

“If we can get rid of the rhetoric from either side and actually talk about the facts, I think that's when we begin to make progress,” he said. “And, you know, a lot of people, when they don't have facts, when they don't have a good backup, that's when the rhetoric starts. That's when the name-calling starts.”

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee expressed similar dismay at the attack and added that the gunman's actions in fact stood against the principles held by antiabortion activists.

"Regardless of why he did it, what he did is domestic terrorism," Huckabee said on CNN's "State of the Union." "What he is did is absolutely abominable, especially to those of us in the pro-life movement, because there's nothing about any of us that would condone or in any way look the other way at something like this."

Read more:

Carly Fiorina’s ‘secretary to CEO’ career trajectory (Fact Checker biography)

Donald Trump plots his second act

A simple guide to what Ben Carson actually believes