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Police suspect arson in fire at Wyoming abortion clinic site

An overnight fire severely damaged a building that was being renovated to house a new abortion clinic in Casper, Wyoming, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The clinic, which would also provide other health care for women, had been set to open in June. It would become only the second place in the state to offer abortions. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — An overnight fire in Wyoming damaged a building under renovation to house a new abortion clinic in the conservative state with widespread opposition to abortion and authorities said they believe the blaze was deliberately set.

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

The clinic, which was also planned to provide other health care services for women, had been set to open in June as only the second place in the state to offer abortions. Wyoming's current lone location for women to get abortions is at a hospital in Jackson, 281 miles (452 kilometers) away.

Julie Burkhart, the clinic’s director, said clinic organizers had been receiving harassing emails and telephone messages. The building had video cameras that were functioning and police were given access to them, she said.

Protests have been held this spring by abortion opponents at the future clinic site and signs opposing abortion were visible Wednesday in a window of an apartment next door to the building.

Wyoming is one of 13 that would outlaw abortion if the Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. A leaked draft of a ruling suggests that will happen soon.

The new Wyoming clinic was being launched by Burkhart, a former associate Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who was shot and killed in a Wichita, Kansas church in 2009.

Police closed off the street where the small building is located as officers investigated. Most of the building's windows were broken out and smoke damage could be seen around one broken window.

Mead Gruver, The Associated Press

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