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Judge Orders Competency Evaluation for Suspect in Colo. Shooting; Op-Ed Assesses Harmful Effects of Defunding Planned Parenthood

A Colorado judge on Dec. 23, 2015 ordered a mental competency examination for Robert Dear, the man accused of killing three and wounding nine others in the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, Reuters reports (Coffman, Reuters, 12/23/15).

Background

Dear allegedly opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., in late November of last year. One police officer and two civilians were killed during the assault. An additional five police officers and four civilians were injured. Since surrendering, Dear has been held without bond.

Dear faces 179 felony counts, including eight charges of first-degree murder for the three deaths. A conviction in Colorado for first-degree murder can result in the death penalty or life in prison. Once Dear enters a formal plea, the district attorney will have 63 days to decide whether to seek the death penalty (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/10/15).

According to the New York Times, Dear has yet to enter a formal plea (Healy, New York Times, 12/23/15). However, during a hearing earlier last month, Dear said he committed the shooting and made several antiabortion-rights statements. Dear also reportedly made antiabortion-rights statements to law enforcement officials immediately following his arrest (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/10/15).

Prosecutors have not yet discussed a motive.

Latest Developments

Judge Gilbert Martinez ordered the examination after Dear said he wanted to represent himself and that he did not trust his public defender. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine whether Dear understands the case and is mentally able to waive his right to an attorney and represent himself.

According to the Times, the lawsuit against Dear could be delayed by several months because of the mental competency testing and Dear's request to represent himself. During the hearing, Dear said he would not cooperate with the examination (New York Times, 12/23/15).

Dear's next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 24 (Gurman, AP/Los Angeles Times, 12/24/15).

Planned Parenthood Official: Clinic To Re-Open 'as Soon as Possible'

Meanwhile, law enforcement has returned control of the building where the shooting took place to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. Vicki Cowart, president of PPRM, said repairs are underway and the group is ready to reopen "as soon as possible" (New York Times, 12/23/15).

Op-Ed: Defunding Planned Parenthood Would Have Most Harmful Effect on Low-Income Women

If "terrorists like Dear and [conservatives] in Congress" accomplish their aim "to shut down Planned Parenthood and deny women access to abortions ... it would serve only to make [low-income] women poorer and increase the number of unintended pregnancies," writes columnist Bryce Covert in an opinion piece for The Nation.

Covert explains that "unintended pregnancies are already concentrated among low-income women, an imbalance that has been increasing." According to Covert, "The rate of such pregnancies among women with incomes below the poverty line jumped 56 percent from 1994 to 2008, while for higher-income women it actually fell by 24 percent." She writes, "In 2008, the unintended-pregnancy rate for [low-income] women was more than five times that of the most well-off." This imbalance means that "poor women have higher rates of [unintended] births as well as abortions -- six times and five times higher, respectively -- than women at the other end of the income scale," she writes, adding, "[Low-income] women also have fewer places to turn for affordable contraception and reproductive care -- except for organizations like Planned Parenthood."

According to Covert, "Taking away the option to seek an abortion would not just infringe on the constitutional rights of [low-income] women; it would almost certainly make them poorer." She cites research that found if "Roe v. Wade ... were overturned and states were allowed to implement their own bans, poorer nonwhite women would see their abortion rates decline more significantly." Further, she notes that research shows that "[w]omen who seek to terminate a pregnancy but are turned away are three times more likely to fall below the poverty line over the following two years than women who successfully get an abortion" and "are also more likely to end up unemployed and to rely on government benefits to get by." Covert adds, "Women themselves already know this:

Among the main reasons [women] cite for seeking the procedure is that they can't afford to have a baby, and that doing so would interfere with their ability to work or gain an education."

Covert also notes that Planned Parenthood "provides many other services to low-income women," such as contraception. She writes, "Among 491 counties with Planned Parenthood clinics, 103 have no other place where low-income patients can obtain affordable contraception."

While "[a]ccess to reproductive healthcare is certainly about women's right to bodily autonomy," eliminating that right "also comes with devastating economic consequences, especially for those already at the bottom," Covert writes. She concludes, "Eliminating Planned Parenthood would create a vicious cycle of impoverishment and [unintended] pregnancies for the most vulnerable women among us" (Covert, The Nation, 12/23).

NARAL Pro-Choice Affiliate Calls on Mass. Governor To Classify Clinic Violence as Domestic Terrorism

In related news, an abortion-rights group is pressing Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) to urge the Department of Justice to consider violence directed toward abortion clinics as acts of domestic terrorism, AP/Daily Journal reports.

Megan Amundson, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said the request is part of a larger national campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice America to get DOJ to investigate violence toward abortion clinics as domestic terrorism, noting that the department can put more resources toward investigating instances of violence when they are classified as domestic terrorism.

The campaign comes amid growing concerns about violence directed toward abortion providers. According to the National Abortion Federation, there have been eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 186 arsons and thousands of other incidents at abortion clinics nationwide since 1977.

Amundson cited specific incidents of clinic violence, including the recent Colorado clinic shooting and a 1994 shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Mass. "As governor, Charlie Baker has the duty to request federal resources in instances where the health, safety, and well-being of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are at issue," she said, adding, "The Brookline shootings are reason enough to demand that the federal government is at the ready to respond with every possible resource if there is violence at abortion clinics again."

Meanwhile, Baker said he would use federal standards to determine what constitutes terrorism, but said he regards anyone who engages in such violence to be engaging in "terrorist acts." Baker said, "The simple truth is it's an act by somebody or some group of somebodies to terrorize, maim, damage and hurt people who are innocent victims" (LeBlanc, AP/Daily Journal, 12/29/15).