Many pro-choice people have responded to the recent shooting by blaming pro-life advocates. In this article I show why such claims are completely unjustified by analyzing culpability and what it means to incite violence.
Last Friday a 57-year old armed man named Robert Lewis Dear walked into a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs and opened fire. He barricaded himself inside for hours, and before surrendering himself to police he killed three people and wounded nine more.
Ben Domenech at The Federalist summarized many of the weird things that have already come out about Dear:
As is so often the case in these circumstances, Dear is described by neighbors as an odd loner, who avoided eye contact and spoke unintelligibly. In South Carolina, his previous residence, he had been arrested after hiding in the bushes and peeping into his neighbor’s house. He shot a neighbor’s dog with a pellet gun and threatened him with bodily harm. In Colorado, he lived off the grid in a trailer, on a five-acre plot of land he apparently purchased for $6,000 in 2014. This followed a series of cabins and trailers — without electricity or running water — that he stayed in after his divorce in 2000.
Dear has no history of affiliation with the Republican Party or pro-life groups or politicians.
While we don’t yet know very many details about his initial questioning by police, it was leaked that he said something about “no more baby parts” at some point. This is a clear reference to the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) undercover videos that have provided evidence that Planned Parenthood illegally sells body parts from the babies they kill in abortion. Planned Parenthood and others are claiming or implying that pro-life advocates are partially to blame for the shooting because we have been saying that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.
Are pro-life advocates culpable for the shooting? By culpable I don’t mean “the only person to blame,” or even “the primary person to blame.” I also don’t mean “ought to be legally prosecuted.” By culpable I mean “morally blameworthy for their actions.” Whether pro-life advocates are culpable for the recent shooting depends entirely on what it means to incite violence. While I will not answer every possible question about what circumstances could make one culpable, I will argue that there are two extreme ways of thinking about culpability that we should avoid. I will also argue that the right way to determine if a statement incites violence is to examine the statement, not merely whether or not it was credited for violence.
Let’s start by examining four fictional cases.