Why It Matters That Both Civilian Victims of the Planned Parenthood Shooting were People of Colour

November 29, 2015
One of the three victims killed in the shooting Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado is from the islands, her family has confirmed. Family members identified the woman as Jennifer Markovsky, a 1997 Waianae High School graduate. (Photo credit: handout, via Denver Post)
Jennifer Markovsky, one of the three victims killed in the shooting Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. (Photo credit: handout, via Denver Post)

On Friday, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear entered a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and opened fire with a long gun. For hours, Dear exchanged gunfire with police officials, killing two civilians and one police officer. Dear was taken into custody after the day-long standoff, and is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow. Dear’s motive remains unclear, but news media are reporting an unnamed police official source who claims that Dear made remarks about “baby parts” upon his arrest suggesting that the crime might have something to do with the unfounded accusation by anti-abortionists earlier this year that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue for profit (they don’t).

News coverage over the weekend has focused on the identity of the police officer — Officer Garrett Swasey — who was killed by Dear during the shoot-out. As of today, however, the identities of the two civilians killed by Dear has also now been released, and it should not go unnoticed that both victims were people of colour.

Ke'Arre Stewart in a photo published on Twitter by KOAA News 5.
Ke’Arre Stewart in a photo published on Twitter by KOAA News 5.

35-year-old Jennifer Markovsky grew up in Hawaii, where she met her husband Paul Markovsky who was stationed there. After they married, the couple had two children and were living in Colorado where Paul had been reassigned several years ago. She was at the Planned Parenthood clinic accompanying a friend when she was killed by Dear on Friday. Her father John Ah-King told the Denver Post:

“She was the most lovable person,” Ah-King said from his home in Hawaii. “So kind-hearted, just always there when I needed her.”

29-year-old Ke’Arre Stewart was an Iraq War veteran and father of two when he was also killed by Dear on Friday. KKTV reports:

Stewart’s wife said he leaves behind his children whose lives will now never be the same.

She said all the family wants right now is justice for Stewart.

Mass shootings are heartbreaking, but perhaps most upsetting about Friday’s shooting is how it focuses attention specifically on those who are most affected by anti-abortionists’ enduring war on reproductive rights. Since Roe v. Wade first established our constitutional right to reproductive choice, anti-abortionists have deployed whatever tools they can muster to try and turn back reproductive rights. They have waged a war on multiple fronts — legislative, grassroots, cultural — to attempt to restrict the abortion access of women and to stigmatize the women who exercise their right to reproductive health and choice. Just this year, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear yet another case that could close many of the nation’s abortion providers.

What often goes missing in the fight to preserve reproductive rights for American women is that this is not just about reproductive justice; it — like so many issues — intersects with race. The Right’s war to shutter the doors of Planned Parenthood is a war on poor women of colour.

The simple facts are these: the vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s patients are low-income. Although national racial demographic data are largely unavailable for Planned Parenthood, in New York City, 70% of those who received services from a Planned Parenthood clinic was a person of colour.

Planned Parenthood provides a host of reproductive health services that serve as direct interventions for a number of public health issues that disproportionately impact communities of colour. For the Asian American and Native Hawaiian community alone, breast cancer, cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infection rates are disparately high, and Planned Parenthood clinics offers affordable early screening and treatment for each.

When a domestic terrorist takes the partisan agenda of anti-abortionists to disturbing and violent extremes, we must be saddened and outraged that it was people of colour who lost their lives; but, it might be disingenuous to express surprise. When the Right declares war on clinics like Planned Parenthood, they seek to end health services that specifically serve our communities. When they pass laws that close community health clinics and eliminate access to the life-saving healthcare that we need, it is us — lower-income men and women of colour, not wealthy White men and women — who are disproportionately forced to endure the consequences.

So let us take note today: two civilians victims were killed on Friday for doing nothing more than going to their local community health clinic seeking healthcare for themselves or their loved ones. They were married. They were devoted parents. They were veterans or married to military personnel. And, yes, they were both people of colour. And, they deserved better than this.

I #StandWithPP today and every day because we must no longer tolerate this nation’s unending war on the lives of people of colour. I #StandWithPP because the unrelenting efforts to close the health clinics that serve our communities are just one of many ways this country repeats its favourite mantra that we do not deserve our basic right to life and health. I #StandWithPP because I believe we all deserve better than this.

Update (11/30/2015): This post was written before details about Ke’Arre Stewart were widely available. We now know that Stewart was also accompanying a friend to the clinic, and that he stepped out to make a phone call when he was wounded by Dear. However, it was when he returned to the clinic to try and help others that he was killed. I’m also reading conflicting reports on Stewart’s marital status — the article originally used as a source for this post quoted someone identified as his wife, whereas this more recent NBC News article mentions a fiancee. I will update this article with a correction when Stewart’s marital status can be confirmed.

Also, this post has been syndicated at BlogHer, and I urge you to click through and share that link as well as this one.

robert-dear-planned-parenthood-shooting
Robert Lewis Dear, in his booking photo. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Update (12/9/2015): At a court appearance today to face 179 charges including first degree murder, Robert Lewis Dear erupted into a spontaneous outburst, shouting “I am a warrior for babies”. He also cried out, “I am guilty, there will be no trial”, and reportedly later said, “You’ll never know the amount of blood I saw in that place.”

The statement reaffirms popular suspicions that Dear was motivated to commit the shooting last month by his viewpoints on reproductive choice, and might have been specifically referencing efforts by anti-abortion activists to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of profiting off the sale of fetal tissue. Since the shooting, conservative anti-choice movement members have attempted to distance themselves from Dear and to downplay or deny a connection between their ideology and Dear’s actions. It will be interesting to see if, and how, they react to this latest development.

  • rcwblessed

    You have absolutely no way of knowing that for sure, since you are not the one who pulled the trigger.

  • AriadneDawn

    How is engaging in a legal medical procedure equatable to being “harmed”?

  • AriadneDawn

    The officer’s identity was released the same day as the shooting; the other two victims’ names weren’t released until Monday. As a result, the weekend coverage was heavily focused on the officer because that was the available information.

  • This argument only works with the circular reasoning that “abortion is equivalent to genocide, therefore abortion is equivalent to genocide.”

    You have presented no evidence beyond your own opinion on abortion to support your conclusion that it is “harmful” — to women of colour individually, or to communities of colour at large. As such, your comment(s) amount to little more than bomb-throwing.

    This site tolerates respectful and reasonably articulated dissenting opinions, as you’ll see several of them below; however, I am under no obligation to permit the publication of badly argued and inflammatory comments that fail to add to the overall debate.

  • Clippy

    I’m trying very hard not to come across disrespectfully. If in my previous statement I said something that was inflammatory, I apologize. I do not remember the wording I used. It’s an emotionally charged subject.

    Do you not think that opinions are being expressed on both sides? We have all developed opinions based on the evidence we find most compelling. I believe the evidence favors a child’s life beginning at conception, rather than at some point all the way up to the time of birth.

    Because I believe that a person’s life begins before birth, I am simply being consistent to say that someone is being harmed when that someone is unborn. Therefore I must conclude that there is harm taking place among the populations of people of color because those populations are more affected by abortion. There is no circular reasoning in my argument, It follows a logical progression.

    You may disagree with my premise that the unborn is a person, but both of our arguments follow the same logic:

    Yours: “it is harm to terminate another person’s life. The unborn is not a person, therefore, if people of color are having higher rates of abortion, they are not being harmed by it.”

    I did not go so far to as to use the term genocide, although in my original comment, I did point out that Margaret Sanger was pro-eugenics. That cannot be disputed, it is a known fact, and as I read articles like these, I can’t help but wonder if her ideas are more widely accepted than most are willing to admit.

    I made my comments here in the hopes that there would be some helpful discussion in regards to what is taking place on a broader level. When someone decries the shooting of people of color in the vicinity of a PP clinic, it should be pointed out that these entire populations of people are being harmed by the same industry that claims to serve them.

  • Clippy

    Hopefully I answered adequately above…

  • The problem remains, Clippy, that you do not acknowledge the arbitrariness of your starting position: that life begins at conception. You say “the evidence favors a child’s life beginning at conception”, but you provide none of this “evidence”. Instead, again you have merely just stated your belief as if it were fact.

    Absent any persuasive evidence about your root reasoning, the argument you present is circular: abortion is harmful because abortion is harmful to people of colour.

    Regardless, your assertion misses this basic point: the choice to define life at conception is not one based on science, but on politics. Specifically, your choice to define life at conception is a political choice to ascribe civil rights to a single cell. More to the point, it is a political choice to prioritize the supposed rights of that single cell over the civil rights of an adult woman whose political rights are otherwise indisputable.

    hat cannot be disputed, it is a known fact, and as I read articles like these, I can’t help but wonder if her ideas are more widely accepted than most are willing to admit.

    You are equating people who are pro-choice with eugenics. This is inflammatory, and will not be tolerated again. If you want to have a respectful conversation here, it begins with establishing a forum where both parties can come to the table with a presumption of good faith. It does not happen by assuming (and subtly accusing) those who disagree with you with wanting to enact racist population control on impoverished women of colour. This is insulting and offensive.

    When someone decries the shooting of people of color in the vicinity of a PP clinic, it should be pointed out that these entire populations of people are being harmed by the same industry that claims to serve them.

    98% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood are contraceptive, STI treatment and cancer screening. Beyond whether or not you agree with abortion, it simply cannot be argued that Planned Parenthood in general “harms” communities of colour. The vast majority of what they do has nothing to do with abortion. I am pro-choice, but even if you are anti-choice, the number of abortions that were never needed thanks to Planned Parenthood’s work to create access and empowerment for sexually active adults with regard to contraceptive care vastly outweighs the number of abortions they actually perform.

  • Clippy

    May I ask on what you basis you believe life does NOT begin at conception? And how do you determine at what point it does begin? This is our fundamental disagreement and I’m being told there is no science to confirm that life begins at conception, but what IS the science that determines when that life is “human”? Is that not a question beyond our ability to answer scientifically?

    You say:
    “the choice to define
    life at conception is not one based on science, but on politics.
    Specifically, your choice to define life at conception is a political
    choice to ascribe civil rights to a single cell. More to the point, it
    is a political choice to prioritize the supposed rights of that single
    cell over the civil rights of an adult woman whose political rights are
    otherwise indisputable.”

    But it works the other way too:
    “choosing not to define life at conception is not one based on science, but on politics. Specifically, your choice to not to define life at conception is a political choice to deny civil rights to an unborn child. More to the point, it is a political choice to prioritize the rights of one person over those of another.”

    Do you see how that works? Sadly, you are right. political lines have been drawn, but this is not how it should be. I have no desire to “take away” any rights – only to make the plea to those who will hear, to value the life that forms from the very beginning.

    If we were talking about a newborn, there would be no question to most of us that the baby has the inherent right to life in spite of the indisputable rights of the adult parent. Somehow though, in order to justify abortion, everyone has to come up with their own opinion. For some, it is first trimester. For others, it is when the baby can live without medical support. For still others, it’s OK all the way up until the baby is making it’s way out of the birth canal. That is most arbitrary.

  • when that life is “human”? Is that not a question beyond our ability to answer scientifically?

    Actually, I think the most meaningful thing here would be for you to lay out why you seem to think science backs your point of view, since this was your original assertion and this continues to form the basis of your rhetoric. What scientific characteristics give you reason to ascribe the label of “human life” to a fertilized oocyte that you will not grant to other cells of the body?

    Also, I’m curious: are you equally concerned about fertility clinics and the many embryos that are created via IVF and later destroyed?

  • Clippy

    There is so much I could share regarding the scientific basis for
    determining human life when it comes to the biological processes that take place! When I said previously that science can’t determine when human life begins, I was referring more to the point at which the life of this individual is united with it’s soul. No human is qualified to make that determination.

    Biologically speaking, the characteristics of a zygote that distinguish it from any other cell of the body?. It is a distinct, living and whole human organism, which is a coordinated whole – that is, it acts in a coordinated manner to control and direct all the developmental events that will take place throughout life. If life is uninterrupted, this zygote, this human organism will proceed to develop into a human body, going through birth, childhood, teen, adult and then age to natural death. The zygote is simply the very earliest stage in the life of a unique human being.
    Any other cells, on the other hand, are alive, but they simply carry on their specific cellular life. They don’t coordinate towards a higher level of organization. A living skin cell observed in a lab will continue to divide and produce more skin… it can’t reestablish the human body as a the zygote will in the right conditions.

    Keith L. Moore in “The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology”:
    “Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell — a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”

    Now when we talk about abortion, we are no longer talking about a zygote. By the time an abortion is performed, at it’s earliest, maybe 6-7 weeks later, the zygote has developed into an embryo. it is more visually human. The heart is pumping blood, the brain and spinal cord are being formed and a human shape has begun to form. By 10 weeks, all the organs have completely formed (the brain and spinal cord continue to develop). All this has taken place in the first trimester.

    In answer to your question about IVF, this is definitely a concern to me, and yes, I believe it is wrong to destroy them.

    Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on when the human life begins, or, more to the point, at what stage of pregancy you are no longer comfortable ending that life? Speaking scientifically

  • it acts in a coordinated manner to control and direct all the developmental events that will take place throughout life.

    Actually, this is not quite right. A zygote doesn’t do this. It’s just a totipotent cell with the right signals to initiate the development pathway. It’s not actually “controlling or coordinating” anything (in fact, a fertilized ovum is transcriptionally quiet at the outset, so if anything is driving early development it’s maternally contributed proteins and miRNAs) — it’s more going down a development pathway that is sort of like… the biological equivalent of falling down a mountain. What you’re doing is an anthropomorphism of what essentially amounts to a piece of automated biological software. Yet, you’re arguing that totipotency is the unique state that establishes the quality of “human lifeness”?

    What would you say to the fact that I can recreate that same totipotency from a cell I’ve harvested from your skin at my lab bench? Totipotency isn’t special — all cells contain the ingredients of the “program” of development, and merely lack the appropriate signals and environment that tell them to undergo development. Science is now at a point where we can push cells far enough back that we can effectively render cells totipotent and create embryos from non-zygotic cells. Is your argument that we should ascribe political rights to iPS cells that demonstrate totipotency?

    There are cancer cells that are also totipotent. Should tumours also fall under a protected political class?

    In the case of both iPS cells and totipotent tumours, if we gave the right conditions, we could absolutely create a viable embryo. So if you’re saying that any human origin cell that is totipotent is what defines “human lifeness” (which must be your argument given that you think that IVF-derived fertilized oocytes should be categorized as such), you’d better be prepared to also widen your net to include several other non-zygotic cell lines.

    Now when we talk about abortion, we are no longer talking about a zygote. By the time an abortion is performed, at it’s earliest, maybe 6-7 weeks later, the zygote has developed into an embryo. it is more visually human. The heart is pumping blood, the brain and spinal cord are being formed and a human shape has begun to form. By 10 weeks, all the organs have completely formed (the brain and spinal cord continue to develop). All this has taken place in the first trimester.

    Things that “look human” is not a rigorous scientific test, and reflects bias more than anything else. If I showed you a fetus of a particular somite stage (equivalent to 6-7 weeks of age for a human embryo) and didn’t tell you what species it is, chances are pretty good you wouldn’t be able to independently tell what species it is. Things “look human” to you at that stage because you already know it is a human fetus. There’s nothing magical about onset of a heartbeat (except that it triggers systemic blood flow which is a physiologically important moment for the developmental processes I study, but I digress) or a spinal cord that make the fetus more politically precious. Basically, what you’re doing here is offering an emotional plea, not a rational one. “Look at the tiny heart!” is not a persuasive scientific argument.

    In answer to your question about IVF, this is definitely a concern to me, and yes, I believe it is wrong to destroy them.

    Then what would you do with fertility clinics? IVF requires the overproduction of embryos in order to guarantee a reasonable success rate, and we do not have the capacity to store them all forever. We have no program nor any particular demand for donation of unused embryos (except to science, which I’m sure you would frown upon), so you are arguing cryostorage …forever?

    Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on when the human life begins, or, more to the point, at what stage of pregancy you are no longer comfortable ending that life? Speaking scientifically

    Scientifically speaking, there is no black-and-white point at which you can establish when a cell deserves its own political rights. What science can offer is this perspective: development is not a boolean. It’s not “one into two, happening by magic at some exact moment” — it is a spectrum of development. It is a process that occurs over time whereby a single cell that has no political rights eventually becomes an organism that does. This is how developmental biologists view development, and it should inform this debate in so far as we learn that there is nothing magical here, just a cell undergoing a developmental program (one that will not, by the way, continue on its own without physiological cell signaling input from the mother).

    If we can both agree that where you decide to identify a “human life” is arbitrary with regard to science, then we have to ask this question through a political lens. When should an organism be viewed as distinct enough from its host mother as to have separate political rights that might supercede her own? I think when a fetus has a high likelihood of viability with good quality of life when removed, which (as my neo-natologist friend just informed me a month or two back) is actually much later than what people think. We can occasionally save fetuses delivered as early as 14 weeks, but overall survival rate is extremely low and survival without negative health implications associated with the premature delivery is about zero. The vast majority of abortions in this country are first trimester abortions that occur far before 14 weeks.

    Regardless, you said in your first post that you don’t want to take rights away. But if you are infusing a cell with the same rights as the adult woman whom you now want to remove the choice of abortion from, then you are — by definition — removing the civil rights from the woman and giving those rights to a cell that is in her body that you have arbitrarily decided is a “human life”.

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