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Planned Parenthood protest postponed after Colorado shootings

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a shooting spree at a clinic in Colorado, a conservative Florida group has postponed a rally that had been scheduled next week to protest government funding for Planned Parenthood.

The Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council, sponsor of the "Florida Taxpayer Rally to Defund Planned Parenthood," said the Dec. 7 event at the Florida Capitol will take place in the spring instead.

"This violent and horrifying act by someone who has a troubling and violent past is in complete opposition to the pro-life cause," John Stemberger, the council's president, said in a statement. "We believe that we must continue promoting the pro-life message and reiterate the concern we have for every human life, including the victims of this tragedy."

The shootings Friday killed a police officer who responded to the scene, a mother of two and an Iraq war veteran. Nine others were wounded. Robert Lewis Dear, 57, was expected to appear in court late Monday afternoon to face charges.

However, Stemberger said, "We also admonish those on the other side of this issue who are attempting to use this tragedy for their own political gains."

The rally had been aimed at Gov. Rick Scott, despite his opposition to abortion, because Stemberger contends that Scott could do more to cut Planned Parenthood's funding.

Planned Parenthood, which offers reproductive-health and other services, has been under fire for months after the release of controversial videos by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress.

After Scott saw the videos in July, officials from the state Agency for Health Care Administration inspected and issued fines against five abortion clinics --- including three Planned Parenthood clinics --- citing them for illegally performing second-trimester abortions.

The clinics deny the charges, contending that the state altered its definition of a first trimester in order to justify the administrative actions.

But Stemberger has argued for months that Scott could do more to cut Planned Parenthood's funding, "through Florida's contract with Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider and through Title X (federal family planning) funding, which six other governors and states have discontinued."

Both Scott and Planned Parenthood have disagreed with that analysis, saying the governor would be in violation of federal law if he took Stemberger's advice.

Many conservatives, including Stemberger, say the videos implicate Planned Parenthood in profiting from selling fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood vehemently denies the charge, but congressional Republicans have used the issue to try to cut off federal funding for the organization. The videos also have roiled the GOP presidential primary.

"Governor Rick Scott continues to allow state contracts and taxpayers dollars to fund the violence that happens inside of Planned Parenthood every day and this must be stopped," Stemberger wrote Monday. "But the Taxpayers Rally to Defund Planned Parenthood cannot continue while the families and loved ones of these victims are grieving."

A spokeswoman for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates declined comment, writing in an email that "our staff is focusing on the health and safety of our patients today."

But on Friday, following the shooting, the group's executive director, Laura Goodhue, wrote in a statement, "Here in Florida and across the country, Planned Parenthood has strong security measures in place, works closely with law enforcement agencies, and has a very strong safety record."

"We don't yet know the full circumstances and motives behind this criminal action, and we don't yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack," Goodhue added. "We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country. We will never back away from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that millions of people rely on and trust."