December 1, 2015 — A Colorado judge on Monday told the man accused of killing three people and injuring nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., that he will be charged with first-degree murder, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Gurman et al., AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1).
The suspect, Robert Dear, on Friday opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic shortly after 11:30 a.m. MT, killing three individuals and injuring nine others. Witnesses report that the assault began with gunfire, followed by several hours of a standoff between Dear and law enforcement during which the police were able to evacuate some of the people inside the clinic. There were reports of additional gunfire later in the afternoon. Sometime after 4 p.m. MT, officers managed to enter the building and speak with Dear. He surrendered after a standoff lasting over five hours and was taken into custody.
One police officer and two civilians were killed during the assault. An additional five police officers and four civilians were injured in the attack. Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carney on Friday said they were in local hospitals and in "good condition."
Law enforcement has not disclosed the motivations behind the assault. However, following his arrest, Dear reportedly made antiabortion-rights statements to law enforcement (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/30).
Dear currently is being held at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center without bond. He is represented by a public defender.
Judge Gilbert Anthony Martinez of Colorado's Fourth Judicial District named first-degree murder as the "initial charge" during Dear's first court appearance on Monday. According to Anthony, "The penalty is a minimum of life in prison and a maximum of death" (Turkewitz, New York Times, 11/30).
Dear is expected to be charged formally at a hearing on Dec. 9. Following Monday's hearing, District Attorney Dan May said Dear could face other charges in addition to first-degree murder. May did not specify what those charges would be (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1). May also did not disclose whether he would seek the death penalty.
According to the New York Times, the U.S. Department of Justice is weighing whether to bring federal charges against Dear (New York Times, 11/30). The AP/Chronicle reports that Dear could be charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (PL 103-259), which criminalizes injuring and intimidating clinic patients and employees (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1). Dear could also be charged with a hate crime, according to the Times (New York Times, 11/30).
House Majority Leader Does Not Expect Shutdown Over Planned Parenthood Funding
In related news, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday said conservative lawmakers in Congress do not plan to use the potential for a government shutdown as leverage for defunding Planned Parenthood, the New York Times reports (Herszenhorn, New York Times, 11/30).
Earlier this year, Congress passed and President Obama signed a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through Dec. 11. The bill includes funding for Planned Parenthood. When the bill was debated, some conservatives said they would not support any government spending measure that includes funding for the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/1).
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in November confirmed that the Senate would move ahead with a vote on legislation (HR 3762) that would use the budget reconciliation process to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal several of the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) provisions. The House already has passed the measure. President Obama pledged to veto the bill if it passes through Congress (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/18).
McCarthy on Monday said, "I do not hear people shutting the government down over it right now, so that's the bottom line." According to the Times, the announcement shows that conservative leaders in Congress recognize that a "renewed debate over [Planned Parenthood[ would be ill advised" after the Colorado clinic shooting.
Separately, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has called on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to dissolve a special subcommittee probing abortion providers (New York Times, 11/30). The subcommittee is the fourth House committee to investigate Planned Parenthood following the release of misleading videos targeting the organization's fetal tissue donation program (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/25).
Boxer said, "Since 1977, there have been 11 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 arsons against abortion clinics and providers. It is time to stop the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood, stop the demonizing rhetoric and disband this committee immediately" (New York Times, 11/30).
Milbank Questions Whether Antiabortion-Rights Rhetoric, Imagery Has 'Unwittingly' Contributed to Recent Incidents
Referring to the Colorado clinic shooting, columnist Dana Milbank in a Washington Post opinion piece asks "whether the often-violent imagery used by conservative leaders on abortion is unwittingly giving the unhinged some perverse sense of justification to contemplate the unspeakable."
Citing antiabortion-rights rhetoric used by several conservative presidential candidates, Milbank writes that "when political leaders turn disagreements into all-out war, demonize opponents as enemies and accuse those on the other side of being subhuman killers, the unbalanced can hear messages that were never intended."
For example, Milbank notes that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, has "touted" an endorsement from Troy Newman, a leader of the antiabortion-rights group Operation Rescue, who has expressed support for using violence against abortion providers. Milbank writes that "in an environment where such a man and message are embraced by a top-tier presidential candidate, we shouldn't be surprised if" certain individuals "get other ideas" (Milbank, Washington Post, 11/30).