The FBI has opened an investigation into a fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Missouri last week that was deemed suspicious by the Columbia Police Department. According to The New York Times, the FBI is offering $10,000 for information about the fire, which the bureau is investigating as a potential hate crime.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, a person in dark clothing was seen on surveillance video as they entered the Planned Parenthood-Columbia Health Center grounds, CNN reported. According to the FBI, the fire alarm at the clinic went off about a minute later due to a small fire, and the same person was again captured on surveillance video — this time leaving the scene as smoke rose from the building.
Nobody was inside the health center when the fire started, per NBC News, and the building's sprinkler system managed to put out the fire before firefighters arrived. Firefighters reportedly told Columbia police that the fire was "suspicious in nature."
According to NBC News, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act makes it a violation of civil rights to damage or destroy a facility's property on the basis that the facility provides reproductive services. As a result, the FBI is currently investigating the Planned Parenthood fire as a possible hate crime.
Following the fire, Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Dr. Brandon J. Hill released a statement saying that the clinic would be closed for the rest of the week but hoped to reopen next week. Hill also assured clinic patients that "this crime will not deter us from our mission."
"It is clear that this was an intentional effort to damage our facility in order to disrupt services and block patient access to sexual and reproductive health care," Hill's statement said. "We continue to cooperate with law enforcement on the active investigation and encourage anyone with information about the incident to contact authorities."
According to Vice, the Columbia branch of Planned Parenthood was forced to stop providing abortion services after an anti-abortion law left Missouri with just one abortion clinic. However, Vice reported that the fire at the Missouri Planned Parenthood may nonetheless be part of an escalation in attacks on abortion and reproductive health care clinics across the United States.
Last year, National Abortion Federation (NAF) President Vicki Saporta told the Associated Press that abortion opponents have been more brazen in their protests against reproductive health care clinics under President Donald Trump.
“The protesters are feeling emboldened by the political environment and seeing what they could get away with,” Saporta said. “They want to make it more difficult to provide care, without going to very extreme forms of violence.”
The NAF found that acts of trespassing on abortion clinic grounds more than tripled between 2016 and 2017, as did instances of obstruction. Death threats against clinics and their workers, meanwhile, nearly doubled between those two years. Despite these escalating threats and attacks, however, Hill made it clear in his statement that the Planned Parenthood clinic in Missouri will not be discouraged by the fire.