“No more baby parts.”

This comment, attributed by a senior law enforcement official to Robert L. Dear Jr. — the rage-filled man suspected to have killed three people and injured nine others while opening fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last Friday — doesn’t sound all that foreign to me. In fact, the line could very well be narration from the surreptitious Planned Parenthood “sting” videos released this past July by the inaptly named Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group that claimed the footage contained evidence proving Planned Parenthood’s selling of “baby parts” for profit.

I’ve also heard the phrase “baby parts” on the presidential campaign trail by some of the nation’s most prominent politicians (and political wannabes). Last July, Ted Cruz appealed to Christian conservatives by demanding that Congress launch an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s “sale and transfer of aborted baby parts.” And just a few months ago, at the end of September, Carly Fiorina condemned Planned Parenthood because she believes they “harvest (fetuses) brains and other body parts.” Even after Planned Parenthood conclusively discredited these claims, she asserted that “Planned Parenthood will not and cannot deny this because it is happening. It is happening in this nation.”

For me, the fact that the words of a madman on a shooting rampage eerily echo language used by anti-abortion politicians on a national stage is too worrisome to ignore, even if authorities have yet to determine the gunman’s exact motives.

I’ll admit that abortion is a highly sensitive topic. However, opponents often discuss it in extreme rhetoric that advances beyond blind emotion, evoking false imagery that depicts the procedure as utterly horrific and murderous. Terms like “baby parts” and “harvesting” inextricably tie the worst kind of violence imaginable to the medical procedure, making abortion dangerously taboo. Much of the dialogue surrounding the topic is not only inaccurate, but also unfair to the women who will eventually have an abortion in her lifetime, and infuses the issue with an unnecessary level of depravity.

To be clear, as provocative and disturbing as some of the language used by anti-abortion advocates is, none of it has called for bloodshed. However, the historical prevalence of violent, anti-abortion actions is undeniable. Attacks on abortion providers are far from a new phenomenon. The fatal shooting at Planned Parenthood this past Friday was merely the latest event in a long history of bloody attacks on doctors and clinics that offer abortion services.

According to The New York Times, At least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States since 1993, including the Colorado shootings. Across the nation, opponents of abortion have vandalized, burned and bombed the clinics and offices where abortion doctors work; the doctors themselves, their staff members, patients and guests have been threatened, intimidated and murdered.

Last Friday’s shootings were clearly an act of domestic terrorism — even Mike Huckabee agrees with me on that. However, we must recognize that the violent ideology that was likely at the root of the attack is not distant, but wholly homegrown. In order to help prevent future acts of violence against abortion providers and their patients, the abortion paradigm must shift away from misrepresentations of violence and murder. We’ve got to work together to normalize the dialogue surrounding abortion and discuss the topic with far less loaded, provocative and frankly inaccurate terms than “harvesting” and “baby parts.”

The reality is that a large number of women will have an abortion in their lifetimes, and the procedure itself is not only common, but also safe and legitimate. Though Friday’s shooting (and all the violent attacks before it) certainly reflects our society’s unsatisfactory state of mental health and paltry gun laws, it’s also an undeniable reverberation of the violent and overheated terms in which some opponents discuss the procedure. Widening the debate around abortion to make room for language that’s less loaded (and more accurate) will begin to neutralize the topic and hopefully help prevent more murders of innocent people. Preventing more events like last Friday’s is something we can all agree upon, whether you’re pro-choice or not.   

Anne Katz can be reached at amkatz@umich.edu.

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