Fire at Planned Parenthood clinic near LA was arson, second attack in 6 weeks

© Mike Segar
A California Planned Parenthood clinic was the target of arson this week, just six weeks after the same location was vandalized. Heated rhetoric directed against the sexual and reproductive health non-profit has increased of late, putting its clinics on alert.

A clinic window at the Thousand Oaks Health Center, northwest of Los Angeles, was smashed late Wednesday, according to authorities, and gasoline was poured inside in an attempt to set the building on fire. A handful of plants near the broken window were damaged, but the first-floor fire was promptly extinguished by the sprinkler system, according to reports. No one had been inside the clinic when the fire was ignited.

No direct threats have been made to the clinic in Thousand Oaks or to workers at the facility, said Ventura County sheriff’s Capt. John Reilly, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Investigators said surveillance video shows a suspect breaking a window at the clinic.

“One suspect approached the clinic and used the rock to break the glass and tossed an accelerant inside and ignited it,” said Reilly.

“We have a brief video of someone walking by the location wearing a hoodie and face mask completely concealing (their) identity. Judging by the walk, they think it was a male.”

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement that she was "deeply troubled" by the Thousand Oaks arson, calling the incident "a serious threat to our public safety."

Six weeks ago, rocks were used to break windows at the clinic, according to Jenna Tosh, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

“We’re no strangers to harassment. The attack that happened last night is unacceptable and will not be successful,” Tosh said Thursday, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “These criminals will never break our resolve to provide the compassionate care that our patients need and deserve.”

Tosh said water from the sprinkler system did more damage than the fire.

“There is significant (water) damage throughout much of the health center and a number of patient exam rooms are impacted and other rooms dedicated to patient care,” she said.

Tosh said the clinic, which serves more than 7,000 men and women, will hopefully reopen on Monday.

Law enforcement could not say whether the attack was related to recent scrutiny aimed at Planned Parenthood stemming from heavily-edited, undercover videos released in July allegedly depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use of fetal tissue for research that was acquired through abortion procedures.

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“You're putting the community at risk when you're doing something like this,” Detective Tim Lohman said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Whether it's the stuff that's in the news recently, we don't know.”

Anti-choice activists claim the videos prove Planned Parenthood has illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue. However, independent research firm Fusion GPS has said the videos, released by a non-profit called the Center for Medical Progress, "lack credibility as journalistic products" and "have no evidentiary value in a legal context." An author of the Fusion GPS report said: “A thorough review of these videos in consultation with qualified experts found that they do not present a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict."

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Planned Parenthood has insisted it follows all state and federal laws pertaining to the use of such fetal tissue. The organization's president, Cecile Richards, was summoned to Capitol Hill this week by anti-choice Republicans to address the controversy.

“Planned Parenthood has been in the news recently because of deceptively edited videos released by a group that is dedicated to making abortion illegal in this country,” Richards said, calling the secretly-taped videos entrapment.

She added in her opening statement: "No federal funds pay for abortion services at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else, except in the very limited circumstances allowed by law. These are when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest or when her life is endangered."

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Federal and state investigation have yet to yield evidence that the organization has misused any fetal tissue. For instance, this week, Missouri attorney general Chris Koster said his office has determined that a Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis, the only clinic that is licensed to provide surgical abortions in the state, handled fetal tissue properly based on Missouri law.

“The evidence reviewed by my investigators supports Planned Parenthood’s representation that fetal tissue is handled in accordance with Missouri law,” Koster said. “We have discovered no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility is selling fetal tissue.”

Kim Custer, executive vice president of health care for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement to the Guardian that the organization has attempted to prepare for such targeting akin to the arson attempt in Thousand Oaks.

“Due to the recent campaign of false attacks against Planned Parenthood, we have increased security measures over the last couple of months to ensure that both our patients and staff continue to be completely safe. While this extremism is deeply troubling, our focus is on providing high-quality, compassionate healthcare to the millions of women, men and young people across the country who rely on us.”

In early September, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington, was heavily damaged by what authorities have concluded was an act of arson.