Women's clinics on alert after fires, burglaries

May 25 2012 - 9:35am

ATLANTA -- Heightened fears over burglaries and fires targeting abortion and obstetrical clinics around Atlanta have triggered heightened security across the country.

The FBI, which is leading a joint investigation, is looking at the cases as possibly domestic terrorism or civil rights violations based on federal laws against intimidation, according to Richard Coes, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"We are concerned about the escalation and activity," said Vicki Saporta, president of National Abortion Federation, which notified all member clinics about the Atlanta incidents twice this week, urging them to take additional precautions. "It's not a good sign when one arson follows another, after following several burglaries. Something clearly is escalating there."

The National Abortion Federation is also sending two staff members to Atlanta on Wednesday to help law enforcement agencies and the clinics. Each of the four clinics targeted in the Atlanta area are linked to doctors who either visited the state Capitol or voiced concerns to lawmakers about new abortion restrictions -- the first in more than a decade -- that were signed into law this month.

FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett said investigators are urging the public to come forward with any information about the fires. The latest was the most brazen one, occurring during business hours Wednesday morning at Alpha Group GYN, which provides abortion services and counseling in Marietta.

Another suspicious fire on Sunday occurred at the Atlanta Gynecology and Obstetrics Gwinnett office in Lilburn, which also was the site of a burglary on Jan. 26. A desktop computer was stolen.

Two other burglaries at obstetrics and gynecology offices occurred in March in Sandy Springs and unincorporated Suwanee. Most of the clinics do not perform abortions.

A spokeswoman for Georgia Right to Life said the organization is encouraging anyone with information about the incidents to contact authorities.

"Georgia Right to Life categorically condemns violence of any kind," Georgia Right to Life executive director Nancy Stith said Wednesday. "Such actions are abhorrent and have no place in a civil society."

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Many longtime Atlanta residents remember the bombing of a Sandy Springs abortion clinic in 1997 that was orchestrated by Eric Robert Rudolph. He later became infamous as the Olympic Park bomber.

Jack Killorin, a retired ATF agent who helped work on the Rudolph case, said the heydey for abortion clinic violence was in the 1980s and '90s. While the abortion debate remains strong, crimes against abortion clinic operators have largely tapered off, he said.

According to Killorin, these types of acts historically don't involve large conspiracies, but one or a small number of disaffected people. The individuals usually don't have criminal records, since they aren't motivated by profit, but by ideology. The culprits are typically not affiliated with organized anti-abortion groups. Instead, they often believe those organizations are all talk and no action, Killorin said.

"This could very well be a lone wolf actor glorying in their powerful secrecy," Killorin said. "And if so, they are very hard to find."

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