The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Apparent Arson Levels Abortion Clinic Hit Many Times Before

By Marilyn Elias on January 3, 2012 - 4:30 pm, Posted in Anti-Abortion, Extremist Crime

The violent history of a Florida abortion clinic may be repeating itself in a new terrorist act: Anti-choice zealots are suspected of setting a blaze Sunday that gutted the American Family Planning clinic in Pensacola, which was Ground Zero for murders and bombings by vigilantes in the 1980s and 1990s.

A sniffing dog helped investigators at the scene gather samples Tuesday to be tested for fire accelerants, Deborah Cox of the Florida State Fire Marshal’s office told Hatewatch. Investigators already have determined that the blaze started outside the building, she added. Calling the fire suspicious “would be an understatement,” Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons told the Pensacola News-Journal.

The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working on the case with the fire marshal, Cox said. Definitive findings on whether it was arson may take a couple of weeks, she reports. Nobody was injured in the New Year’s Day blaze.

The two-story clinic, formerly called The Ladies Center Clinic, has been at the epicenter of the violent anti-abortion movement for nearly 30 years now. Indeed, this isn’t the first time the clinic has been burnt to the ground; a pipe bomb in 1984 destroyed it. Rebuilding only brought more bombings—and two murders. In  1994, Dr. John Britton, a clinic doctor, and his bodyguard, James Barrett, were gunned down at close range by Paul Hill, who was executed for the murders in 2003. A year earlier, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was shot to death outside a similar facility clinic in the same town, the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services clinic.

Hill, a former drug enthusiast who eventually became a Presbyterian minister, never expressed remorse for the murders, claiming the Bible justified his acts. He was the first person in America to be executed for murdering an abortion provider.

Destruction of the Pensacola clinic this week comes amid “an incredibly hostile environment attacking women’s right to choose here in Florida,” said Judith Selzer, vice-president for public policy for the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Inc. “It’s very scary now,” Selzer told Hatewatch.

In 2011 the Florida Legislature passed five laws that could compromise women’s abortion rights, she says. One mandates ultrasounds before all abortions, even if doctors say they’re not needed—“an intimidation tactic,” Selzer says. Another law put a proposed amendment stripping privacy rights from the state constitution on the 2012 ballot, “and we’re worried about how this could affect women seeking abortions,” she added.

An intensifying climate of intimidation, including the 2009 murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kan., has reduced access to abortions for American women. Nationally, the number of abortion providers has steadily declined for the last 20 years, says Rebecca Wind of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks availability. In 1992, there were 2,380 physicians performing abortions in the U.S.; that had fallen to 1,793 providers by 2008, the latest year available.  Some 87% of U.S. counties have no abortion providers, Wind told Hatewatch. The shortage is greatest outside of large cities.

  • Wzrd1

    Scott, I always find remarks like yours funny, as Karma is from a DIFFERENT religion, hence the comment has circular logic.
    That said, apparently, these religious zealots must think that their God is a pathetic, powerless creature, as THEY feel the need to stop what their God is unable to stop.
    Rather than simply accepting that their God apparently accepts free will, free choice and lets people live their lives as they see fit (and in some faiths, will “discuss it” later with people who offend against said God’s will). Hence, they’ve placed themselves ABOVE said God by committing violence.
    Frankly, nobody ever issued me the “I am God” tee shirt, so I’ll not judge or force others to follow my beliefs, save when those others are forcing THEIR beliefs upon others.

  • Scott B

    Karla, you are so correct and in the end it will be God who will decide on everybodies punishment. Even if you don’t believe in God, Karma will get you in the END!!!! It all balances out.

  • Karla

    A former drug enthusiast? I take that means a former doper?

    Sounds about right–goes from illegal drugs to the God drug. Yet, doesn’t trust his God to handle the world’s problems so he takes things into his own hands. Must not have much true faith in the power of his God.

  • CSB

    Let people make and live with their decisions. None of us have been given the right to judge! Right or left, the decisions that people make in their bedrooms or with their doctors are their choices and not those of the majority! “Let it Be”, as a certain song writer once said.

  • Mitch Beales

    MST perhaps you could even find it in your heart to actually condemn this behavior and those who goad others into it.

  • bsman

    Remember, according to many in the right, life begins at conception and ends at birth! ;)

  • Snorlax

    Domestic terrorism, pure and simple. Hope they catch the bad guys.

  • Bridgette J

    Anti-choicers just keep ramping up their tactics with violence and hatred. Being supposedly “religious” they certainly seem disconnected with reality where murdering actual living human beings outside the womb is a crime. I take all of the attacks against women’s right to choose personally because I am a rape and sexual abuse survivor. I myself never needed an abortion (thank goodness), but know that at age 13 I certainly would’ve made that choice. Right-wing and religious extremists need to keep their government hands out of my uterus and body. They preach small government, but want to be in the bedroom with everyone, so to speak. I hope these criminals are caught and brought to justice.

  • MST

    I’m “anti-choice,” as you say, but I don’t condone this sort of violence in any way, shape or form, and neither do most prolife people.

  • CSB

    It is intolerable when persons interfere with the decisions of individuals in their choices involving their bodies. There are so many needs in the world that warrant our help. If an indivual is driven to action, look to a positive not a negative action – that goes across the board for all of our activities and decision making processes!

  • A.D.M.

    CIA Jon, history does not repeat itself. People repeat history.

  • Nomi

    I have been watching and listening to a lot of news the last few days, and this is the first I’ve learned of this.

    Thanks, as always for your work….

  • CIA Jon

    seems history is repeating