The F.B.I. is investigating a fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Missouri as a potential civil rights crime, offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that could lead to an arrest. Under the Federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, it is illegal to damage a facility on the basis that it offers reproductive health services.
The New York Times reports about the fire, which occurred early Sunday:
According to the Police Department, someone wearing dark clothing was seen on security footage walking toward the Columbia Health Center shortly after 4 a.m. Sunday, and later retreating as smoke rose from the building. The fire was extinguished by the sprinkler system before firefighters arrived. No one was in the building at the time.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday that it did not have any additional information about the fire that it could release.
Until last fall, the Columbia Health Center was one of two clinics in the state that performed abortions. But the clinic can no longer provide abortions because of a state law that requires providers to secure admitting privileges at a local hospital. (In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Texas, but that hasn’t deterred states like Missouri and Louisiana from imposing similar restrictions). As a result, Missouri is down to just one abortion clinic.
As conservative politicians seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and choke off access to abortion across the country, abortion providers, and their patients, are under threat. In 2015, an anti-abortion gunman fatally shot three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, and according to the New York Times, “at least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States since 1993.” In 2009, after surviving a previous assassination attempt, anti-abortion extremist Shelley Shannon killed Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors who provided abortions later in pregnancy. Shannon also confessed to burning and vandalizing nine abortion clinics in 1992 and 1993.
“The circumstances surrounding the fire are coming into focus,” Dr. Brandon J. Hill, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Great Plains said in a statement, “and it is clear that this was an intentional effort to damage our facility in order to disrupt services and block patient access to sexual and reproductive health care.”