Today in Terrorism: November 27, 2015 – Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting

Lone actor terrorists can strike out of conviction on a wide variety of beliefs, such as ‘abortion is wrong’.

There are perhaps fewer issues more controversial and divisive in the US than that of abortion. The two camps in play are polar opposites: either abortion is solely a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body or it is murder of an innocent life. There is no middle ground it seems.

This chasm has become worse in recent years, or so it seems, such that prior reasonable ‘compromises’ have vanished. At one time it was more or less accepted that in the case of rape/incest or where the mother’s life was in danger from the fetus growing inside her an abortion was necessary. Several US states, for example, now have ultra restrictive laws in this regard and there is concern that a conservative Supreme Court could outlaw the practice in its entirety by 2020.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado where a gunman killed three people on Friday. Photograph:  Isaiah Downing/Reuters
Damage to the entrance of the clinic (Photo: Reuters)

2015 Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting

For those opposed to abortion, largely on religious grounds, efforts to convince women not to go through with the procedure are varied. Some hassle women entering abortion clinics. In some jurisdictions there are requirements that the woman seeking an abortion view an ultrasound of the fetus, supposedly to convince her to change her mind (Kentucky is one example). In others abortions are illegal once a heartbeat is detected: as this is often before a woman realises she is pregnant it in effect removes any possibility of aborting the fetus.

On rare occasions someone decides that the only way to protect ‘unborn babies’ and stop abortions from being offered is to attack clinics where the medical operation is offered. This is what happened in Colorado Springs, US, on November 27, 2015. 57-year-old Robert Dear entered a planned parenthood clinic and engaged in a standoff with police that lasted for hours. Three people were killed and at least nine others were injured.

The act was called ‘domestic terrorism’ by US authorities, a catch-all term that I personally do not find helpful. Pro-choice activists blamed a “negative environment” around Planned Parenthood which they felt contributed to recent attacks on the health care provider, by encouraging those like Mr. Dear to take the law into their own hands.

Robert L. Dear Jr., in a court appearance via video on Monday at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center in Colorado Springs.
Robert Dear (Photo: Daniel Owen)

Abortion clinic attacks are terrorism

Mr. Dear had engaged in other actions prior to the Colorado Springs attack such as gluing the locks of another clinic, praising people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work,” and describing as “heroes” members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.

Abortion clinic attacks or the killing of medical professionals who provide such services are rare these days. And yet there is no question, at least not to me, that these are indeed acts of terrorism. Recall that in many jurisdictions, Canada’s included, an act of terrorism is a serious act of violence for political, ideological or religious reasons. I am confident that religion provides the motivation here.

So yes, individuals like Robert Dear are terrorists doing what they see as ‘God’s work’. How is this any different than what jihadis in Islamic State or Al Qaeda do?