Planned Parenthood Arson Investigation Comes as ‘Surge’ in Clinic Violence Continues

The recent fire in Pullman, Washington, caused significant damage to the reproductive health-care clinic, but did not result in any injuries to clinic staff or other personnel. Anti-choice advocates suggest no involvement in an interview with Rewire.

The recent fire in Pullman, Washington, caused significant damage to the reproductive health-care clinic, but did not result in any injuries to clinic staff or other personnel. Anti-choice advocates suggest no involvement in an interview with Rewire. Shutterstock

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

While law enforcement agencies conduct an investigation into the Planned Parenthood health center that was set ablaze by an act of arson early Friday morning, reproductive rights advocates are raising concerns about the spike in violence against abortion providers. Anti-choice advocates suggest no involvement in an interview with Rewire.

The fire caused significant damage to the building, but did not result in any injuries to clinic staff or other personnel. The Pullman, Washington, facility will likely be closed for at least a month and the organization will look for a temporary location.

The clinic did not provide abortion services, but provided other reproductive health care including birth control, family planning, and sexual health services.

The investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Pullman Fire Department, and this week investigators are examining surveillance video from the clinic for any clues that may be able to identify the person who set the fire, reported KXYL.

The fire at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman is just the latest this year in a series of acts of anti-choice violence against reproductive health-care providers, and pro-choice advocates claim that the increase is connected to an ongoing campaign against the organization by anti-choice activists and lawmakers.

“We are deeply concerned about the dramatic surge in threats and violence directed against Planned Parenthood and independent abortion providers since the release of deceptive videos by the so-called Center for Medical Progress,” duVergne Gaines, the national clinic access project director at the Feminist Majority Foundation, told Rewire.

The Pullman clinic was recently the site of a large anti-choice protest organized by alumni and students of New Saint Andrews College, a private Christian college. The protest was one of more than 300 protests that occurred on August 22 during the “National Day of Protest,” in response to a series of videos produced and published by the Center for Medical Progress.

Kim Hall, director of the Selkirk Prolife Alliance, told Rewire that she questions the presumption that the arson was perpetrated by someone associated with the anti-choice movement.

“As far as the fire goes, funny how everyone jumps to the conclusion that pro-lifers are at the center of it,” Hall wrote in an email. “Intentional destruction of property is not the way Americans handle controversial subjects. We follow the law, we appeal to our fellow citizens and our elected officials. It has always been my observation that when Americans know the truth they always make the right decision.”

The Selkirk Prolife Alliance organized the protest at the Planned Parenthood in Spokane, about an hour north of Pullman. Hall said the group has been unfairly connected to the arson by the media because of their close proximity to “the home of the right wing extremist skinheads” in northern Idaho.

When asked if it was unreasonable to suspect that someone who may identify with the anti-choice movement may have been involved, considering the number of similar incidents over the past three decades, Hall said it depends on a person’s point of view.

“For me, everyone I know and everyone that I have been associated with in the pro-life movement is disgusted by any violence,” Hall said. “So for me the thought of a pro-lifer doing an act of violence is the farthest thing from my mind.”

“Planned Parenthood on the other hand thinks that having a prayer vigil, press conference, and demonstration at their facility on a day that it is closed, not to mention that our priests, pastors and state representative were in attendance constitutes violence against women,” Hall said.

Gaines noted that there is a history of violence directed at abortion providers in the Pacific Northwest.

“We urge the federal government to deploy the resources at their disposal to investigate not only this latest act of violence, but also the Center for Medical Progress, and bring those responsible for violence—and violent threats—to justice,” Gaines said.

The Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula, Montana, was firebombed in 1993, and the perpetrator was eventually arrested and convicted. A Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane Valley was bombed in 1996. Four men, all members of a white supremacist anti-choice group, were convicted in the bombing.

All Families Healthcare, a family medicine and reproductive health-care facility in Kalispell, Montana, was severely vandalized in March of 2014. Zachary Klundt, who has connections to a local anti-choice group, was sentenced in June to five years in prison after he plead guilty in April to felony burglary, criminal mischief, and theft.

“It may not be a coincidence that a group of national anti-abortion extremists, including justifiable homicide advocate Matthew Trewhella, convened a weekend ‘conference’ in Northern Idaho just across the border from Washington just two months ago,” Gaines said.

A conference held on June 27 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, just a two-hour drive from Pullman, included an assortment of speakers associated with the radical anti-choice movement.

The Rev. Trewhella, a Milwaukee-based anti-choice leader and co-founder of the Missionaries to the Preborn, is convicted arsonist who was investigated in the 1990s for abortion clinic violence and served 14 months in prison for violation of the federal FACE Act.

The conference was hosted by the International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies at the Candlelight Christian Fellowship, and was attended by other individuals associated with the radical anti-choice movement including Rusty Thomas, Chet Gallagher, Jeremiah Smedra, and Scott Herndon.

Thomas is the director of Operation Save America, a radical anti-choice organization that routinely and aggressively targets abortion providers and local communities.

Gallagher, the assistant director of OSA, was fired by the Las Vegas Police Department in 1989, after participating in uniform in an Operation Rescue blockade of the entrance to a local abortion clinic. Gallagher served time in prison for using his uniform to gain access to a clinic, then destroying clinic property.  

Smedra and Herndon are both members of Northern Idaho chapter of Abolish Human Abortion, a radical anti-choice group with chapters around the country that stage protests featuring graphic photographs outside not only abortion clinics but also public schools and pharmacies.