A woman wounded in the 2015 terrorist attack at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and the widow of a man killed in that shooting rampage are suing the health clinic for what they say was inadequate security, making the clinic negligent and liable for the deaths and injuries wrought by gunman Robert Lewis Dear.
Dear killed three in the Nov. 27 attack, including Ke’Arre Stewart, an Iraq war veteran who was slain near the clinic’s entrance, and wounded nine, including Samantha Wagner, who sustained a gunshot wound in her upper arm. Wagner and Ashley Stewart, Ke’Arre’s wife, are plaintiffs in the suit, filed by attorneys on Friday.
The suit alleges that the Colorado Springs facility should have anticipated a potential attack, considering the “long history of violence” perpetrated against abortion providers, and should have instated more and better security measures to prevent an anti-abortion extremist like Dear from gaining access to the clinic. It accuses Planned Parenthood of “outrageous conduct” and suggests that the facility should have better secured its entrances, better trained its employees for emergency situations, hired an armed guard, posted warnings about “the risk of physical harm, injury or death associated with entering [Planned Parenthood] properties,” and built perimeter fencing to keep out violent terrorists.
“[The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood] in fact did not provide a safe and secure environment, nor did it provide any warnings of the very real threat and dangers that face people whom they invite and encourage to attend its clinic,” the suit states.
Stewart is suing the clinic for the wrongful death of Ke’Arre, and Wagner is suing for damages related to her “permanent physical impairment” and immediate medical bills. Soon after Dear’s attack, Wagner’s husband asked for $100,000 on a GoFundMe page to cover any “medical bills that aren’t covered by insurance,” but only netted a little over $1,500.
Stewart and Wagner are right: Violence at abortion clinics is on the rise, largely due to a spike in the prevalence and extremism of anti-abortion rhetoric. The National Abortion Federation called 2015 the most violent year for abortion providers in recent memory, as Nora Caplan-Bricker wrote in Slate last month:
[NAF] details an increase in threats made to providers—from a single threat in 2014 to 94 in 2015—and a jump in online hate speech, from 91 documented cases in 2014 to 25,839 in 2015. The number of clinic blockades nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015. And incidents of picketing at facilities, which, according to the report, had been on the wane, increased from 5,402 in 2014 to a record-breaking 21,715 incidents in 2015.
But the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood did not discount the possibility of an attack. Indeed, anti–Planned Parenthood activists had complained that the Colorado Springs facility, which had recently moved to a new location, was a “fortress.” During the November shooting, the clinic’s preparations helped staff and law enforcement officials respond quickly to minimize the harm Dear could cause. A staff member who’d undergone active shooter training called 911 and brought employees and patients into a safe room built into the clinic immediately after hearing the first gunshot. Police were able to use live feeds from the clinic’s interior surveillance cameras to direct officers at the scene. It’s impossible to guess at the number of lives saved or injuries prevented by the clinic’s existing security measures, but it’s safe to say that the clinic was aware of the climate of violence anti-choice leaders have encouraged throughout the country and took precautions that served their purpose when Dear arrived with a rifle.
Still, some have found reason to blame Planned Parenthood for the attack. Just a few days after the shooting, Colorado state representative JoAnn Windholz wrote that the organization is the “true instigator” of all violence wrought at its clinics. “Violence begets violence,” she wrote. “So Planned Parenthood: YOU STOP THE VIOLENCE INSIDE YOUR WALLS.” Mainstream Republican leaders, including several of this election season’s presidential hopefuls, have come awfully close to echoing that sentiment.
Though plenty of Planned Parenthood clinics do have metal detectors, bulletproof glass, and steel doors with buzzers, they shouldn’t have to. Patients shouldn’t have to feel like they’re entering a prison when they’re just showing up for a doctor’s appointment. Doctors shouldn’t have to sneak into their offices or check in with armed guards to give proper care to their patients. Dear was not a random actor; his motive (“no more baby parts”) was cribbed directly from a series of propaganda films released by the Center for Medical Progress last summer. His ideology was spoonfed to him by a growing cabal of extremists who use the rhetoric of genocide and hellfire to encourage responses just like Dear’s. They, in turn, are empowered by mainstream Republicans, who pad the profiles of anti-choice activists who tell followers that there are legal and theological arguments for murdering abortion providers. The answer to anti-abortion terrorism is a crackdown on the political and rhetorical enablers of anti-abortion terrorism, not more guns in exam rooms.