Police suspect arson in fire at Wyoming abortion clinic site

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CASPER, Wyo. — An abortion clinic due to open next month in conservative Wyoming was damaged Wednesday morning by a fire that police say was deliberately started – possibly by someone seen fleeing the building carrying what appeared to be a can of gas and a bag.

The fire damaged the interior of the building being renovated to house the clinic in Casper, the second-largest city in a state where opposition to abortion is widespread.

The clinic, which also planned to provide other health care services to women, was scheduled to open in June as the second location in the state to offer abortions. The only current place in Wyoming where women can have an abortion is a hospital in Jackson, 452 kilometers away.

A person who called authorities before dawn saw someone flee the building with what appeared to be a can of gasoline and a black bag, police said in a Facebook post. Investigators were reviewing video footage of the area in hopes of identifying the suspect or generating a description of the suspect, police said. No injuries were reported.

Clinic director Julie Burkhart said clinic organizers received harassing emails and phone messages. The building had working video cameras and police had access to them, she said.

“Whether you’re against abortion or support abortion rights, you’re not going to make abortion go away,” said Burkhart, a former associate of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who has was shot and killed in a Wichita, Kansas, church in 2009.

Demonstrations were staged this spring by abortion opponents at the site of the future clinic, and signs opposing abortion were visible Wednesday in a window of an apartment next to the building.

Wyoming is one of 13 U.S. states with a so-called trigger law that would immediately ban abortion if the Roe v. Wade who legalized it nationwide was overruled by the United States Supreme Court. A leaked draft decision suggests that will happen soon.

Police temporarily closed off the street where the small building is located while officers investigate. Several windows in the building were smashed, and smoke damage was visible around one shattered window.

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