September 9, 2015 — Investigators with the Pullman, Wash., Fire Department have determined that a fire early Friday morning that caused serious damage to a Washington state Planned Parenthood clinic was arson, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.
According to the AP/Chronicle, the arson follows a recent antiabortion-rights protest outside the clinic, which was spurred by a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/7).
The videos, which depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, were released by an antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress. CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization said it does not profit from fetal tissue donations and only receives reimbursement for costs associated with such donations, which is legal. Meanwhile, supporters of Planned Parenthood said the videos are part of a decades-long campaign against the organization.
Last month, Planned Parenthood submitted a report to Congress that found the videos were manipulated, making them unreliable for official inquiries into the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27).
Investigation and Temporary Clinic
Tanya Riordan, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said the arson could shut the clinic for over a month, but the organization is looking for a temporary office in Pullman to resume services as soon as possible. According to the AP/Chronicle, no one was injured in the fire.
Chris Wehrung, an investigator with the Pullman Fire Department, said a task force of local and federal agencies is working together on the case. FBI Special Agent Frank Harrill stated his organization and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are involved in the investigation because of a history of attacks targeting abortion providers.
According to the AP/Chronicle, an antiabortion-rights group in 1996 bombed another Washington-based Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane Valley (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/7).
Spike in Threats of Violence
In related news, abortion-rights advocates are warning of an increase in the number of violent threats targeting abortion providers, facilities and organizations, following the release of CMP's videos, Huffington Post reports.
According to Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, there have been two reported arsons at Planned Parenthood clinics, antiabortion-rights protestors appearing in large numbers at providers' homes and many online threats toward abortion-rights advocates in the wake of the videos.
Saporta said the increase of such behavior spurred her to alert the Department of Justice and FBI. "In my 20 years at NAF, I have never seen such a volume, intensity and escalation of hate speech, threats and criminal activity, and we would like to prevent a serious violent act from occurring," she said, adding, "We have enlisted law enforcement's help."
Death threats against abortion providers previously have resulted in murder, such as the murders of abortion providers George Tiller in 2009 and Barnett Slepian in 1998.
A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said the organization could not comment on specific threats or security measures it is taking, but it is concerned for the safety and security of its providers. Meanwhile, the CMP videos prompted DOJ to hold a meeting of its National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers (Bassett, Huffington Post, 9/3).