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Planned Parenthood fire

Authorities have determined a fire at a Planned Parenthood facility in Knoxville, Tennessee on December 31, 2021 was arson. (Photo: Knoxville Fire Department/Facebook)

'Intentional, Criminal Act': Fire That Destroyed Tennessee Planned Parenthood Clinic Was Arson

"These hateful acts go much further than property damage—they harm the patients who depend on safe Planned Parenthood health centers, staff, and providers to receive trusted, essential healthcare services."

Jessica Corbett

After authorities in Knoxville announced Thursday that a New Year's Eve fire at the only Planned Parenthood clinic in East Tennessee was arson, local and national leaders at the healthcare group condemned the act and vowed to resume services as soon as possible.

"All too often, bad actors emboldened by the rhetoric of anti-abortion politicians and antagonists intentionally work to interrupt patients' access to healthcare and providers' ability to give it."

"Local and federal authorities have determined that the fire at our Knoxville health center on December 31 was an intentional, criminal act," said Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. "This is an appalling and heartbreaking act of violence towards Planned Parenthood, our patients, and our community."

The Knoxville Fire Department's investigation into the blaze that destroyed the facility at 710 N. Cherry Street was supported by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). In a Facebook post announcing the arson finding, the local fire department asked for the community's help to identify the individual or individuals responsible.

"If you have any information related to the fire please call 1-800-762-3017 or email KFDArson@knoxvilletn.gov," the department said. "There is a reward of up to $10,000.00 for information that would lead to the prosecution of anyone involved in any criminal activity related to this fire. All calls are confidential."

Coffield said that "as we reckon with this news and the road ahead of us, we remain tremendously grateful for the hard work and determination of the Knoxville Fire Department and the ATF to find the cause of this fire and bring the person, or persons, responsible to justice."

She noted that "unfortunately, this is not the first time we have mourned at this health center."

On January 22, 2021—the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion—someone fired a shotgun at the doors of the clinic, which was closed and unoccupied. The recent fire was set as the facility was undergoing a $2.2 million renovation and expansion. Neither incident resulted in any injuries.

"While the investigation continues, Planned Parenthood now turns towards recovery and renewal," Coffield said Thursday. "Our priority is to establish a safe operating site and reconvene services for our patients as soon as we possibly can. Although it will take time to rebuild, we are committed to our patients in East Tennessee and will not let this attack take away the essential healthcare services on which they rely."

The fire comes amid an "unprecedented" wave of GOP state laws intended to restrict reproductive freedom and as the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could overturn Roe, both of which have bolstered calls for the Senate to pass the House-approved Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA), even if it requires abolishing the filibuster.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), put the arson in the context of recent attacks on abortion rights across the country.

"We are devastated by this tremendous loss to Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Northern Mississippi and to the Knoxville community," she said. "All too often, bad actors emboldened by the rhetoric of anti-abortion politicians and antagonists intentionally work to interrupt patients' access to healthcare and providers' ability to give it."

The PPFA leader added that "it must be made clear that these hateful acts go much further than property damage—they harm the patients who depend on safe Planned Parenthood health centers, staff, and providers to receive trusted, essential healthcare services."

"While we are horrified by this heinous act of violence, we remain encouraged by the fire department and ATF's resolve to investigate," she said, "and grateful to those who have continued to stand with the Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi community as they work to restore access to care and rebuild."


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