Latest Clinic Violence: California Planned Parenthood Set Ablaze

U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in a statement connected the attack on the facility to the political attacks this year on Planned Parenthood by anti-choice activists and lawmakers.

U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in a statement connected the attack on the facility to the political attacks this year on Planned Parenthood by anti-choice activists and lawmakers. Shutterstock

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

A Planned Parenthood facility in Southern California was set on fire Wednesday in an apparent arson, becoming the latest incident in a growing number of attacks on abortion providers.

First responders arrived at the Planned Parenthood Thousand Oaks Health Center at around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, alerted by the fire alarm. The building’s sprinklers had extinguished most of the flames, reported the Los Angeles Times.

There was no one inside the building at the time. Julie Mickelberry, vice president of public policy and community engagement at the Planned Parenthood clinic, told Rewire that officials are hopeful the facility can reopen as soon as next week. 

A container filled with a flammable liquid was thrown through a window, after a rock was apparently used to shatter the window before the container was tossed inside, investigators told Al Jazeera America. There was reportedly more damage from the sprinklers than from the fire.

Jenna Tosh, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties, said in a statement that the organization is grateful that no one was hurt, and for the “quick and thorough response” of law enforcement.

“We are working to assess and repair the damage and will reopen our doors as quickly as possible,” Tosh said.

The facility, located outside Los Angeles, provides a wide range of health-care services each year to more than 7,000 patients, Tosh said. Lifesaving preventive care like cancer screenings, birth control, and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment make up 90 percent of the services provided.

The Thousand Oaks Health Center provides abortion care, offering medication abortion and surgical abortion care up to 15 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy.

Law enforcement officials said that a person wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a face mask was recorded by the clinic’s surveillance cameras. “The footage is really poor. It’s very dark, but the cameras did capture someone,” Sheriff’s Capt. John Reilly told Al Jazeera America.

The facility was vandalized six weeks ago, when another window was broken. It is unknown if the two incidents are related.

U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in a statement connected the attack on the facility to the political attacks this year on Planned Parenthood by anti-choice activists and lawmakers.

“The toxic rhetoric directed at Planned Parenthood has dangerous consequences,” Feinstein said. “It sends a signal that using violence to close clinics and intimidate health care professionals and women is ‘OK.’ It is not.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, testified for five hours this week during congressional hearings held in response to a series of videos published by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress. The videos, released in coordination with GOP lawmakers, feature heavily edited footage of surreptitiously taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

“Unfortunately, there is a long history of violence against women’s health care clinics,” Feinstein said. “There have been more than 200 arsons and bombings over the past 40 years. These acts are serious crimes at the state and federal level, and the criminals who perpetrate them must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington, was set ablaze last month. The fire caused significant damage to the building, but did not result in any injuries to clinic staff. The facility has remained closed since the fire as the organization looks for a temporary location.

Since the fire, supporters have attached notes of solidarity to the fence surrounding the clinic.

An unidentified person poured gasoline on a recently laid foundation and a security guard’s car at the construction site of the Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans, and another person was arrested and charged with a hate crime for allegedly removing signs at an abortion clinic in Metairie, Louisiana.

There was an act of vandalism at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in March, as an unidentified person destroyed some of the Mississippi clinic’s security cameras and a generator. Footage was captured of a person on the clinic property before the security cameras were destroyed.

Anti-choice activists have had a muted response to the acts of violence against abortion providers, and have even gone so far as rejecting the possibility that the acts are committed by those associated with the anti-choice movement.

“Funny how everyone jumps to the conclusion that pro-lifers are at the center of it,” Kim Hall, director of the Selkirk Prolife Alliance, told Rewire“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.”

Patricio Gonzalez, an anti-choice activists who regularly protests the clinic, was outside the clinic Thursday and told the Los Angeles Times he had not seen any suspicious activity. “This is a peaceful, prayerful presence,” Gonzalez said. “There’s a way to send a message.”