Federal authorities are offering a US$5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of a masked woman who set fire to an abortion clinic in Wyoming late last month.
As part of law enforcement’s appeal for help from the public, the Casper Police Department released surveillance footage Tuesday of the arson incident in the hopes that someone can identify the suspect. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Denver Field Division (ATF) has been collaborating with local police on the investigation since the fire occurred on May 25.
The 30 seconds of released footage shows a person in a blue hoodie and surgical face mask carrying a red fuel can through a room in the Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper before police say the suspect “intentionally (set) fire to the building.”
The suspect is believed to be a woman who acted alone, according to a police statement. She is described as having a medium build and is approximately five feet six inches to five feet eight inches in height.
Casper police were alerted to the arson incident after a caller reported they heard glass break and saw a person leaving the area near the abortion clinic carrying a gas can and black bag. Officers arrived at around 3:50 a.m. and found a broken window and smoke coming out of the facility.
The fire was extinguished quickly and investigators found that fire accelerant was used in several areas of the clinic.
The Wellspring Health Access clinic was set to open in mid-June and would have been the first clinic in the state of Wyoming to offer surgical abortions. There is only one other abortion clinic in Wyoming, which is located in Jackson, but it only offers medical abortions, in which a pill is provided to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks after conception.
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People in Wyoming who want to get a surgical abortion must drive to clinics in either Fort Collins, Colo., (about 320 kilometres from Casper) or Billings, Mont. (about 430 kilometres from Casper).
According to the clinic’s website, the location of the facility was “strategically located” in an “abortion desert” — where access to abortions is limited to non-existent. It was meant to serve residents not just in Wyoming, but also in the low-access regions of “western Nebraska, western South Dakota and the southeastern corner of Montana.”
The May 25 fire damaged a building that was under renovations and has delayed the opening of the clinic by six months, according to a statement made by the clinic.
“Despite these setbacks, we are undeterred in our mission to give the people of Casper access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care,” Wellspring’s founder Julie Burkhart wrote in the statement.
In April, the clinic was the site of a protest attended by 150 people that heralded the beginning of regular anti-abortion protests at the facility.
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Because of the fire, the clinic might not be able to provide abortions before an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could overturn Roe v. Wade. Wyoming is among 13 states that would ban all or nearly all abortions if the court overturned the 1973 case that made abortion legal nationwide.
A draft of a Supreme Court ruling that was leaked in May would overturn the landmark case.
Under a bill signed into law in March by Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, Wyoming would prohibit most abortions should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.
Exceptions would include cases of rape or incest or to protect the mother from death or serious medical harm not involving mental health.
— with files from The Associated Press
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