Investigators in Washington state on Saturday formally announced that a large fire at a Pullman Planned Parenthood center was arson, the Associated Press reported. The blaze first began in the early morning hours on Friday, damaging several support beams and compromising the center's structural integrity. Pullman Fire Department investigator Chris Wehrung told reporters that both local authorities and federal officials had been briefed on the matter and that a fuller investigation into the fire was underway.
Thankfully, no one was injured. But the blaze, which was set at around 3:30 a.m. local time, was unsettling for the diverse college town nonetheless.
"This is an appalling act of violence towards Planned Parenthood, but unfortunately a predictable ripple effect from the false and incendiary attacks that fuel violence from extremists," said Greater Washington and North Idaho Planned Parenthood CEO Karl Eastlund in a statement to the press.
One of those alleged extremist groups was the Idaho-based Selkirk Pro-Life Alliance, which held a massive anti-abortion protest at the Pullman clinic in August. The Spokesman Review reported at the time that hundreds of demonstrators had shown up at the rally, hoisting signs with graphic imagery and text that read #PPSellsBabyParts. The group was led by state Rep. Matt Shea, who compared Planned Parenthood to Nazi Germany and Dr. Josef Mengele, calling the nonprofit "an evil organization."
Although the fire was "just the latest in a decades-long string of attacks on abortion clinics," as Daily Beast columnist Samantha Allen pointed out on Saturday, the heated debate over abortion rights was recently dialed up even more after a group of pro-life activists from the Center for Medical Progress released a series of videos in July, which allegedly showed Planned Parenthood top brass discussing the sale of fetal tissue for cash. Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards denied the allegations, calling the videos "an attack on women" in an op-ed column for the Washington Post.
"The most recent attacks in this decades-long campaign [against Planned Parenthood] represent a new low," said Richards. "The extremists will not win this battle [because] the goal of these attacks is to get Planned Parenthood to stop providing care — and that will never happen."
While the fire has set back the clinic's business temporarily, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman told the Spokesman Review reporters that the group intended to find another temporary space for patients and employees to use in the meantime. She added that the group was relieved that no one had been hurt in the blaze, which ultimately lasted three hours before being extinguished by the Pullman Fire Department.
"The fire and corresponding damage at our Pullman Health Center is tragic," said spokeswoman Tanya Riordan. "We are immensely grateful no one was on site or injured."
FBI Special Agent Frank Harrill told AP reporters that both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would be heading up a deeper review of the incident. The investigation was standard procedure for any incident involving an attack on an abortion clinic, he said.