Florida Abortion Clinic, Long a Target, Firebombed

A Pensacola, Fla., clinic at the epicenter of anti-abortion violence for nearly 30 years was firebombed and destroyed by a homeless man in January.

Bobby Joe Rogers, 41, who was charged with one count of damaging a building by fire, told investigators he used a Molotov cocktail fashioned from a 32-ounce beer bottle filled with gasoline. He lit it with a wick made from an old shirt.

Rogers also told police he threw the bomb against the American Family Planning clinic and watched it burst in flames, the New York Daily News reported. He hid in an abandoned car wash while the building burned. “He stayed at the car wash just long enough to make sure the fire was going and recalled hearing a lot of crackling and popping,” a law enforcement affidavit stated.

The two-story clinic, formerly known as The Ladies Center Clinic, was a frequent target of anti-abortion attacks in the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, this year’s fire wasn’t the first to burn the clinic to the ground. A pipe bomb destroyed it in 1984. It was rebuilt, but that only brought more violence.

In 1994, anti-abortion activist Paul Hill gunned down a clinic physician, Dr. John Britton, and his bodyguard, James Barrett, at close range. A year earlier, Dr. David Gunn, also an abortion provider, was shot to death outside another clinic in the Florida Panhandle city, Pensacola Women’s Medical Services.

Hill, a Presbyterian minister who had been excommunicated the year before the murders, never expressed remorse, claiming the Bible justified his acts. In 2003, he became the first person in America to be executed for murdering an abortion provider.

Judith Selzer, vice president for public policy at the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said the latest firebombing occurred amid “an incredibly hostile environment attacking women’s right to choose” in Florida. “It’s very scary now,” she said.

The arson came in the wake of the Florida Legislature’s passage of several anti-abortion measures. One of the five laws passed in 2011 mandates ultrasounds before all abortions, even if doctors say they’re not needed — “an intimidation tactic,” Selzer said. Another 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.”