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White Woman Suspected in Arson at Abortion Clinic That Hadn't Even Opened Yet [Updated]

The founder of the Wyoming clinic previously worked for Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider who was murdered in 2009.

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Police tape is placed at the scene of an overnight fire that severely damaged a building that was being renovated to house a new abortion clinic in Casper, Wyoming, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The clinic, which would also provide other health care for women, had been set to open in June. It would become only the second place in the state to offer abortions.
Police tape is placed at the scene of an overnight fire that severely damaged a building that was being renovated to house a new abortion clinic in Casper, Wyoming, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
Photo: AP Photo/Mead Gruver (AP)

Update 6/9/22: The Casper Police Department released surveillance photos and video of the suspect, who appears to be a white woman between 5'6" and 5'8". The suspect wore a mask for the majority of the time she appears in the footage but did pull it down briefly. Clinic founder Julie Burkhart told the Casper Star-Tribune she was “slightly surprised” that the suspect didn’t appear to be a man. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest, their phone number is 307-663-9400.

A fire at the site of a Casper, Wyoming, abortion clinic that hasn’t even opened yet was suspected arson, the Associated Press reports.

The local police and fire departments responded to a call just before 4 am on Wednesday, May 25. Casper Police wrote in a Facebook post that “smoke was seen rolling out of the windows” when officers arrived. They also said the person who called in the fire saw someone “running away from the building with a gas can and black bag.” The fire damaged the inside of the building and several windows were broken, but thankfully no one was there and no injuries were reported.

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The building that will house Wellspring Health Access was still being renovated prior to opening but had multiple functioning security cameras and founder Julie Burkhart gave the footage to police. An officer from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was also at the clinic site on Wednesday. We’ll update this story if more information is released about the suspect.

The clinic planned to open in mid-June and would offer several health services, including abortion, gynecologic care, birth control, and gender-affirming care, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. It’s unclear how the fire will affect the clinic’s planned opening.

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Wellspring would become only the second place in the state to offer abortions aside from a hospital in Jackson, and the only one to do procedural abortions. Both the hospital and a telehealth provider serving the state offer medication abortions, but the pills generally aren’t prescribed after 10 weeks of pregnancy and some people prefer in-clinic procedures.

There’s a long, dark history of violence against abortion clinics and workers in the US. As Jezebel’s Caitlin Cruz wrote earlier this month:

And since 1977, there have been at least 11 murders and 26 attempted murders of abortion providers; there have been 42 bombings of clinics and homes; there were 194 incidents of arson, including burning down a Planned Parenthood clinic in Tennessee just this past New Year’s Eve.

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Burkhart knows this violence firsthand. Her former boss was Dr. George Tiller, the nationally-known Kansas provider of later abortions who was murdered in the foyer of his church by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009. Burkhart told the AP that people working on opening the Wyoming clinic had received harassing emails and phone messages. A group of people have protested at the clinic site every Thursday since April.

Burkhart told the Casper Star-Tribune, “This world seems to be encased in violence.”

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Wyoming is one of 13 states that has a so-called trigger law which would ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. It looks likely that the Supreme Court will overturn the 1973 ruling sometime between now and the end of June. A memo from the Department of Homeland Security said the agency is preparing for a possible increase in violence following the ruling, including violence toward abortion clinics.