Update 1/6/22: The Knoxville Fire Department said on Thursday that the fire that burned down a Planned Parenthood clinic last week was set intentionally, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. No suspects are currently in custody, but the department is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to the prosecution of anyone involved in the arson.
2021, largely a hellish year, has ended much in the same way it began: with damage to a Knoxville, Tennessee, Planned Parenthood clinic. In January, a man fired a shotgun at the front door of the Knoxville reproductive health center, reportedly “shattering the glass and lodging bullet holes in the reception area.” And early Friday morning—on New Year’s Eve—the same clinic was found engulfed in flames and burning to the ground. No one was inside the building or hurt in either incident. The clinic was temporarily closed since Dec. 7, 2021 for renovations with patients receiving care via telehealth, according to Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.
“This is a huge loss for the community and we hope that there are no resulting injuries or damage to neighboring properties. We are grateful for the response of local firefighters and are fully cooperating with the authorities as they assess the cause of the fire. Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi is a leading provider of high-quality, affordable reproductive and sexual health care and education in Tennessee, and we remain committed to serving as many people as possible — no matter what,” Ashley Coffield, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a statement to Jezebel.
There’s no proof, at this point, that fire was set deliberately, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI have made contact with local officials to determine whether it may be a case of domestic terrorism.
“Any fire in a structure like that, you’re right, everything gets investigated,” Assistant Chief Brent Seymour told Knox News. “This may be a little more attentive.”
Ken Peters, an anti-abortion activist who held religious protests at the clinic, said he prays no one was hurt and also “that abortion completely end[s] in America.”
If the incident does turn out to be arson, it’s just the latest in an alarming trend of escalating violence against abortion clinics. Between 2019 and 2020, providers across the country reported a 125 percent increase in “vandalism, assault and battery, death threats/threats of harm, stalking, and hoax devices/suspicious packages,” according to a recent report by the National Abortion Federation. The assaults and altercations included “shoving, pushing, tripping, and spitting on clinic escorts, staff, and others outside of clinics.”
“We expected an escalation in anti-abortion activities in 2020 and 2021 due to the political climate, the election, and the increase in hate incidents throughout the country,” Melissa Fowler, chief program officer of NAF said in a statement to Jezebel, adding that “some of the people at the January 6 insurrection are the same people who have been targeting abortion providers and protesting at clinics in their communities.”
We will be updating this story as more information comes out.