FBI investigates suspicious blaze at abortion clinic

JILL BARTON

Associated Press


WEST PALM BEACH - A suspicious fire damaged an abortion clinic where protesters have staged weekly demonstrations for more than a decade, and federal agents launched an investigation, authorities said Tuesday.

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined local authorities in the investigation of the blaze late Monday at the Presidential Women's Clinic.

No one was in the building during the fire and no injuries were reported, but the facility sustained moderate smoke, fire and water damage, fire department spokesman Phil Kaplan said.

It appeared that lighter fluid or some other accelerant was used to start the blaze, Kaplan said.

Two months ago, authorities investigated an attempted arson at the same facility.

Helen Reid, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast, called on city officials to address the repeated incidents.

"How are they going to protect the citizens of West Palm Beach to make sure anyone who enters any health care facility feels safe? Because the environment in Florida right now has gotten out of hand," Reid said.

Reid is one of several people who escort patients inside the clinic on Saturdays, when protests are held. She said as many as 70 protesters will gather to hold demonstrations and most are peaceful, praying and singing. But a small group repeatedly harasses patients and employees. They use a bullhorn to yell at patients and try to intimidate patients by videotaping them and holding graphic photos.

The fire forced the Presidential Women's Clinic to close on Tuesday. Officials did not say when it would reopen.

Florida has had a long history of violence against abortion clinics and doctors who perform the operation.

A July 2004 fire damaged another Palm Beach County abortion clinic and a 2003 blaze damaged one in neighboring Broward County.

Paul Hill was executed in 2003 for the 1994 murder of a Pensacola doctor and his escort outside an abortion clinic.

Those slayings came one year after Michael Griffin murdered a doctor at another Pensacola clinic. He is serving a life sentence.

A decade earlier, two young couples bombed three Pensacola abortion clinics on Christmas Day 1984. No one was injured in those attacks. The two men were released after serving about half of their 10-year federal prison terms. The women received probation.

Federal authorities investigating the fire did not return repeated calls for comment Tuesday.