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Vandals, arsonists target more pregnancy centers

Pro-life organizations see an uptick in violence following the release of a Supreme Court draft opinion in an abortion case


Damage at the Wisconsin Family Action offices in Madison, Wis. Facebook/Wisconsin Family Action

Vandals, arsonists target more pregnancy centers

Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling was helping set up for a Mother’s Day brunch at her Watertown, Wis., church Sunday morning when she received a phone call. It was the manager of the building where her group rented office space on the north side of Madison, and he had bad news: Vandals had set fire to part of the building, right inside of her own office.

According to the police report of the incident, a passerby saw flames coming out of the building around 6 a.m. that morning. The Madison Fire Department put out the fire, and investigators found graffiti on the building and an unignited Molotov cocktail inside of the offices. The graffiti included an anarchist symbol — an A inside of a circle —and a coded slogan as well as the phrase, “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”

When Appling arrived at the scene, someone had already covered up the two broken windows with plywood. The damage was still shocking: Glass covered the floor, and some of her books that had lined the windowsill were scattered on the ground, either burned or under a layer of glass and soot.

The arson and vandalism at the Madison offices was just one in a series of aggressive acts against pro-life organizations nationwide since May 2, when Politico published the leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that called for the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Pro-life groups are preparing for more violent opposition if the court overturns Roe, but they continue to carry on their work and trust in God.

Before Sunday’s incident, Appling said the almost seven years they had been in the office building had been quiet and peaceful with no graffiti incidents. But now, Appling said the organization has beefed up security at the building. As they wait for their insurance company to inspect the damage, Appling has to keep the door of her office shut and seal the cracks with towels to keep toxic particles in the air from spreading to the adjacent reception area. They’ve also installed an air purifier.

But the increased security can’t keep out the voicemails the office has received since the news of the vandalism broke Sunday. Callers have left profanity-laced messages, saying things like they hope the Molotov doesn’t miss “next time.”

“Whoever set that fire is a true American patriot,” said one caller. Others told them to “burn, little Jesus freaks. Burn, burn burn,” and, “Enjoy your marshmallows.” Appling said the most disturbing voicemails came Tuesday, after a journalist for the website Bellingcat tweeted a statement he said he received from a group called Jane’s Revenge claiming responsibility for the attack.

In it, the alleged perpetrators said the attack on the Madison offices was “only a warning” and demanded “the disbanding of all anti-choice establishments, fake clinics, and violent anti-choice groups within the next 30 days.” The statement cited past incidents of activists bombing abortion facilities and shooting abortionists as their reason for adopting “increasingly extreme tactics to maintain freedom over our own bodies.” Madison police told WORLD they are aware of the group claiming responsibility and are “working with our federal partners to determine the veracity of that claim.”

Appling said she assumes the police will do their best to get to the bottom of the incident as quickly as possible. “If we can bring this to a quick closure and find the folks who are responsible and bring them to justice in a timely way, I think it helps mitigate the likelihood of further violence across the country,” she said. “If they’re willing to do this because of a leaked draft opinion, what might happen when we get the final opinion?”

Vandals also targeted Oregon Right to Life headquarters in Keizer, Ore., on Sunday evening. According to a news release from the Keizer Police Department, the suspects attempted to break into the offices through a window. When the attempt failed, they ignited two Molotov cocktails and threw them toward the building, resulting in a “small fire with minimal damage.” The police released images of a vehicle thought to belong to the suspects but did not say if anyone had claimed responsibility for the act.

Other targeted organizations included Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers. Sometime on May 6 or 7, vandals spray-painted abortion-related phrases on the outside property of two pregnancy centers in Denton, Texas, and one in Manassas, Va. WORLD has independently confirmed all three incidents with local police departments. At a fourth pregnancy center in Portland, Ore., vandals “broke out numerous windows” and “scrawled some graffiti on the wall” on the morning of May 5, according to an emailed statement from the Portland Police Bureau, which added that no group has taken responsibility.

At the Care Net Pregnancy Center of Frederick, Md., a staff member arrived at work the morning of May 4 to find graffiti across the wall and door on the front of the building. Red words reading “NOT REAL CLINIC” covered the door. Other phrases spray-painted in black or red declared “END FORCED MOTHERHOOD,” and, “ABORTION IS A RIGHT.” As in Madison, the graffiti also included the anarchist symbol.

The center staff waited until a client left to call the police. Executive Director Linda King said by noon they had contacted a pregnancy center board member who owned a construction company. Before the end of the day, the construction workers had painted over the graffiti.

Unlike Wisconsin Family Action, this wasn’t the first incident for this center. Twice in 2014, vandals spray-painted the center’s walls. In one of the incidents, someone threw a brick through a window. In response, the center installed cameras at the back of the building, where the previous incidents took place. King said the plan now is to add cameras to the other sides of the building and make sure they have enough lighting around the center. In an impromptu meeting Wednesday afternoon, King and a few other staff members also discussed the importance of staying aware of their surroundings when entering and exiting the building.

The Frederick police department told WORLD that its officers had not heard anyone claim responsibility for this incident so far and that the case is currently “suspended” due to a lack of additional leads. The department added that it has increased police patrols in the area.

Despite the scare, Appling said she and her staff have confidence in God. “We truly do believe that God allowed this to happen, alright? And we may not understand why, but we trust Him and we believe that ultimately He will take what was intended for evil to turn it for good,” Appling said. “It’s very reassuring and comforting to know that God is in control, and he expects us to be wise and to be careful and to exercise common sense, but ultimately he is the one who provides the protection.”


Leah Savas

Leah reports on pro-life topics for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.

@leahsavas

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