Ethics & Public Policy Center

Robert Dear and the Unheralded Vindication of the Pro-Life Movement

Published in The Week on May 13, 2016


Hey, do you remember the story about the guy who shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic and later said something to police officers about “baby parts”?

When this story broke last fall, countless pundits and progressive interest groups seized on the idea that only one thing might have led Robert Lewis Dear to kill three people and injure nine more at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs: the rhetoric of pro-lifers.

Don’t take my word on it. It happened so much that The Washington Post made a story out of it, titled, imaginatively, “Abortion rights groups: Political rhetoric contributed to shooting“. “To many abortion rights advocates, it seemed only a matter of time before something like this happened,” reported the Post‘s Sandhya Somashekhar.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo attacked then-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, seeming to blame her and other conservatives for the shooting. “Do you feel any sense of regret about how you characterized what was going on at Planned Parenthood after the attack in Colorado?” he asked. “Because of what the man said which seems as though he was influenced by some of the rhetoric coming out of you and others that painted a very ugly picture and unfair one about Planned Parenthood.”

The Guardian‘s Jessica Valenti went even further, not only accusing pro-lifers of prompting the Dear shooting with their rhetoric, but of doing so intentionally.

I point all this out because a judge has now ruled that Dear is mentally incompetent to face trial.

Here are some of the beliefs of Robert Lewis Dear, according to CNN: “He believes the FBI cuts holes in his clothes and leaves feathers in his home. (…) That President Obama will declare martial law and rebuild himself as the antichrist.”

Since the beginning of his trial, Dear has shown erratic behavior, shouting at his lawyers and the judge, once calling the judge a “filthy animal,” muttering to himself, declaring he’s guilty, and trying to fire his court-appointed lawyer. A court-appointed psychologist explained that Dear suffers from a “delusional disorder” that means he cannot have a “rational understanding” of what goes on around him, adding that “his decisions are not based on logic.”

Robert Lewis Dear is not some smoking gun proving that pro-life rhetoric causes abortion clinic shootings. If anything, he is simply evidence that insanity plus guns leads to shootings.

It has long been obvious that Dear was unstable. But that still didn’t stop political hacks from using a senseless tragedy as a political club.

As I wrote at the time, while it’s true that all mass political movements have a violent fringe, what’s astonishing about the pro-life movement is how non-violent it is:

Psychopaths are around 1 percent of the general population. Roughly half of Americans identify as pro-life, which means that if psychopaths are evenly spread among pro-lifers, there are about one million and a half pro-life psychopaths going around. Not even counting the countless “normal” people who surely have been turned into bloodthirsty maniacs by pro-life rhetoric.

So, how many people have these millions of pro-life psychos murdered over the past 40 years that the pro-life movement has been around? Eight.

Eight people is not nothing. It’s also less people killed over 40 years than Nidal Hasan killed in 10 minutes, less than were killed in Columbine High School over the span of an hour. [The Week]

Which is not too surprising when you realize that pro-life people are, you know, pro-life. That’s what the whole movement is about. To be pro-life is to believe that problems, even very hard problems, are only made worse with violence. Violent people pretty much self-select themselves out of the pro-life movement.

All of this is so obvious as to border on the tautological — to be pro-life is to be in favor of life. It’s sad that in a political culture so polarized, where we are so quick to presume bad faith on the part of our counterparts, one has to point out the obvious.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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