Vicki Cowart’s Friday started like many of ours: She spent the morning taking advantage of the pre-holiday quiet to clear some work off her to-do list. But for Cowart, the day ended tragically, with three people killed and nine injured in a shooting at one of the health centers she is responsible for.
Cowart is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the Planned Parenthood affiliate that covers Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and southern Nevada – and which was the site of the gruesome anti-abortion attack in Colorado Springs last week.
The shooting, which took the lives of police officer Garrett Swasey, Iraq War veteran Ke’arre Stewart and stay-at-home mother Jennifer Markovsky, happened amid an environment of hostility, violence and hateful rhetoric directed at abortion providers throughout the country. Despite this environment, abortion clinics, like the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, have offered compassionate medical care to women who need it, thanks to individuals like Cowart and her staff.
Rolling Stone recently spoke to Cowart about Friday’s shooting and its aftermath.
Where were you when you first found out what happened Friday, and what was your first response?
The story of where I was and how I found out is emblematic of what Planned Parenthood struggles with. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I had just come in from a nice walk with friends when I decided to check in on a long-standing strategic planning project and try to move it along. There I am thinking I have some clear space to be proactive.
I called the front desk of my office, and as soon as the receptionist picked up the phone I knew something was terribly wrong. She said with a trembling voice, “There’s a shooter at the Colorado Springs center.” I said, “What?” She said the health center manager has just called her to tell her that she had called 9-1-1 and the staff was mobilizing on their active shooter protocol. So immediately we launched into our own leadership-level incident command work that we had trained for.
It’s just emblematic – you can’t do that proactive long-range work because you receive so many attacks, both physical and otherwise: from legislative bodies, the smear campaigns from the antis and their despicable tactics, and the protesters.
What would a normal Friday at this clinic look like?
Fridays are busy at Planned Parenthood. Out of our 29 health centers, probably 20 were open across our four states. The Fridays after Thanksgiving are particularly busy because our patients have time off, so that’s when they come to us.
One of the first things we did after going into our protocols was gather up the names of all the health center staff and the names of all the patients who we knew had appointments that day. There were 15 health center staff working on-site and 30 individuals scheduled for appointments. It was a busy day.