Colorado Springs shooting suspect Robert Lewis Dear of North Carolina is seen in undated photos provided by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
El Paso County Sheriff's Office/AP
November 29, 2015 4:44 PM EST

Four Republican presidential candidates denounced Friday’s shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood on Sunday talk shows, while rejecting the notion that anti-abortion rhetoric had a part in the violence.

Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee condemned the attacks and the shooter, Robert Lewis Dear —who reportedly told the police “no more baby parts” when he was taken into custody. The GOP hopefuls avoided language that could connect prevalent Republican views on abortion and against Planned Parenthood to the shooter’s motive.

“It’s obviously a tragedy. Nothing justifies this,” Fiorina said. “Any protesters should always be peaceful. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or pro-life protesters.”

Officials have not yet identified Dear’s motives, and Fiorina quickly came under fire for equating him with protesters.

“Well, this was an extremist. And this was a man who they said prior to this was mentally disturbed,” Trump told Chuck Todd on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ “So, he’s a mentally disturbed person. There’s no question about that.”

Carson’s comments struck a similar chord: “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of extremism coming from all areas,” he said on ABC’s ‘This Week’. He would not speak to anti-abortion discussions specifically, but said both political sides need to forgo rhetoric and discuss facts to make progress in general.

“There’s no legitimizing, there’s no rationalizing,” Huckabee said on CNN’s ‘State of the Nation’. “It was mass murder. It was absolutely unfathomable. And there’s no excuse for killing other people, whether it’s happening inside the Planned Parenthood headquarters, inside their clinics where many millions of babies die, or whether it’s people attacking Planned Parenthood.”

Huckabee’s language about “millions of babies” dying is the sort of anti-abortion rhetoric that people on the left decried as fueling hatred towards Planned Parenthood for partisan purposes.

“We’ve seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months. That environment breeds acts of violence,” Rocky Mountains Planned Parenthood CEO Vicki Cowart said in a statement following the shooting. “We should not have to live in a world where accessing health care includes safe rooms and bullet proof glass.”

Planned Parenthood CEO Dawn Laguens echoed Cowart in a Sunday statement responding to comments from candidates.

“It is offensive and outrageous that some politicians are now claiming this tragedy has nothing to do with the toxic environment they helped create,” Laguens said. “One of the lessons of this awful tragedy is that words matter, and hateful rhetoric fuels violence. It’s not enough to denounce the tragedy without also denouncing the poisonous rhetoric that fueled it.”

On Fox News Sunday, Fiorina dismissed such sentiments as “typical left-wing tactics.”

“The vast majority of Americans agree what Planned Parenthood is doing is wrong,” she continued. Fiorina sparked outrage when she described a graphic video of a fetus on a Planned Parenthood operating table during a Republican Debate. Many later took issue with her description, however, because the image did not appear in the tapes in question.

A number of other candidates also condemned the attack in the wake of the shootings.

Write to Julia Zorthian at julia.zorthian@time.com.

Read More From TIME

Related Stories

EDIT POST