Ted Cruz and the Radical Anti-Abortion Movement

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Police officials haven’t yet said what motivated Robert Dear, a doomsday prepper-type loner with a history of domestic violence who handed out anti-Obama pamphlets to neighbors, to stand in the parking lot of a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic with a rifle and open fire the morning after Thanksgiving.

But, as The New York Times reports, anonymous police officials say that upon arrest, after killing three people (including a cop), Dear told authorities in a rambling interview “no more baby parts.” So it makes sense that Ted Cruz was among the first to condemn the shooting, putting some distance between himself and the radical anti-abortion wing of the evangelical movement he’s been flirting with on the GOP presidential campaign circuit.

Just one week before the violent attack on the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, Cruz touted the endorsement of Troy Newman, the man behind Operation Rescue, a group grounded in the radical fringes of the anti-abortion movement (on her show, Rachel Maddow recently recounted the organization's troubling history). It was Newman who wrote in a 2000 book that abortion providers should be executed as convicted murderers “in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people.” Cheryl Sullenger, the book’s co-author and senior vice president of Operation Rescue, served two years in federal prison for her role in the attempted gasoline bombing of a California abortion clinic in the late 1980s.

It was Newman who moved Operation Rescue to Wichita, Kansas in 2002 to launch a full-court press against George Tiller, the abortion provider ultimately shot dead in his church by a man named Scott Roeder in 2009. While there's no evidence the organization planned or participated in the attack, there are signs Operation Rescue’s rhetoric greatly influenced Roeder. At trial, Roeder said he regularly participated in Operation Rescue protests and even had a signed copy of Newman and Sullenger’s book calling for the execution of abortion providers. In 2010 Roeder told a reporter with Ms. Magazine that the year Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, he sat down for lunch with Newman and asked whether violence against abortion providers was justified. “If it were, it wouldn’t upset me,” Newman reportedly told him.

Newman in fact appears to be behind the recent undercover videos of Planned Parenthood doctors filmed by anti-abortion activists with the Center for Medical Progress—in a filing with the state of California, Newman is listed as one of three CMP board members. Despite the group’s claims, the videos present no evidence Planned Parenthood broke the law in how it preserves organs and fetal tissue for medical research, let alone that any Planned Parenthood clinic illegally profited from tissue and organ donations. Anti-abortion activists and politicians continue to accuse the women's health provider of "selling aborted baby body parts." 

Those videos, and the unprecedented political backlash they've triggered, have convinced more clinics to adopt the kind of increased security measures on display during Friday's clinic shooting in Colorado Springs; to monitor the situation and safely evacuate hostages, authorities tapped into the closed-circuit system of security cameras placed throughout the clinic. As the Times reported this weekend, abortion providers say the videos and the reaction to them has led to an "especially ominous atmosphere":

Security measures at many clinics have been strengthened in the five months since anti-abortion activists began releasing covertly taped videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the illegal sale of fetal parts. The claims have been disproved, but they have led to vitriolic verbal attacks and to what workers in abortion clinics, not only those run by Planned Parenthood, consider an especially ominous atmosphere.

Still, conservative politicians have seized on the videos to call for and launch investigations into Planned Parenthood across the country. State health officials here cited the sting videos as reason to pull all Medicaid funding from the organization’s Texas clinics. And Ted Cruz was among the first GOP presidential hopefuls to ride the growing anti-abortion wave in hopes of clinching the evangelical vote. Over the summer Cruz announced he’d lead a nationwide push to defund the organization. In an email to pastors earlier this year, Cruz lamented “Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices.”

On his campaign website earlier this month, Cruz boasted about the endorsement from Newman, whom he called “a driving force in the recent effort to expose Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of baby parts in a series of undercover videos.” Following the clinic shooting on Friday, both Cruz and Newman rushed to put out statements condemning the violence. Cruz told reporters “we don’t know the motives of what this murderer, what those motives were — but whatever they were, it’s unacceptable.” Newman meanwhile urged the public “not to draw any conclusions until police can make an official determination” as to what motivated the shooter.

Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said something similar in her statement to reporters over the weekend, but added this: “We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country.”

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