The growing conservative uproar against Planned Parenthood — sparked by this summer’s release of several videos depicting the health center’s employees speaking frankly about procuring fetal tissue for scientific donation — has led to some vicious verbal attacks. Following her Tuesday testimony in from of Congress, for example, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards was likened to a slave trader and described as being in the business of infanticide. Staff of the nonprofit have been called “baby-killers” for months, accused of leading a “holocaust on children.”
But this fiery debate has also potentially triggered physical backlash.
Since the release of the inflammatory videos, several Planned Parenthood centers and other clinics that offer abortions have been vandalized across the country, shutting some down for weeks. Here’s a rundown on each incident:
Confirmed arson in Southern California: The most recent attack came on Wednesday evening in Thousand Oaks, California, where arsonists broke a Planned Parenthood window to douse the interior with gasoline — and then set it on fire. The small fire was put out by the facility’s sprinkler system, but the clinic is unsure how soon it can reopen.
Suspicious fire in Washington State: In early September, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, WA, saw a more detrimental arson case that took hours to put out. Clinic staff said the fire could shutter the center for a month, at the least.
Hate crime in Louisiana: A man was accused of pulling metal signage off a Metairie, LA abortion clinic on August 15. Under Louisiana law, it’s illegal to commit a crime against a person and property “because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization.” Thus, this act was deemed a hate crime because it was specifically targeting employees who provide abortions.
Vehicle arson in New Orleans: Another arsonist targeted a Planned Parenthood clinic in the process of being built in early August. The New Orleans construction site failed to ignite, but the nearby empty vehicle of security guard caught fire. This particular construction site has been plagued with vandalism and protests for months, delaying the opening of the clinic.
These incidents haven’t occurred in a vacuum. Lawmakers and reproductive rights activists have been quick to link the recent attacks to the larger national debate swirling around Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.
“The toxic rhetoric directed at Planned Parenthood has dangerous consequences,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said in a statement following the recent Thousand Oaks fire. “It sends a signal that using violence to close clinics and intimidate healthcare professionals and women is ‘OK.’ It is not.”
And local clinic staff also acknowledge the larger impact of these direct attacks.
“This isn’t just an attack on our health center; it’s an attack on expanded access to reproductive health care,” said Melissa Flournoy, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana state director, said in a statement following the August construction site arson. “Unfortunately, this arson attack is another example of the violence reproductive health care providers and advocates for abortion rights too often face.”
The people who work at clinics often become the subject of threats, harassment, and violence designed to drive them out of business. According to the National Abortion Federation — which tracks national statistics related to clinic violence — there have been more than 200 arsons and bombings of clinics since the mid-1970s. Over the past several years, the level of personal attacks against abortion providers has increased.