Officials are investigating suspected arson at the new Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper, which is set to become the first provider of surgical abortions in Wyoming when it opens this summer. The opening had been scheduled for mid-June but has now been pushed back due to damage from the fire.
The clinic has also been the site of protests by abortion opponents and counter-protests by abortion-rights advocates for the past several weeks.
Police extinguished a fire they believe was set intentionally at the clinic around 4 a.m. Wednesday. Rebekah Ladd is public information officer for the Casper Police Department. She said the divisive national debate about abortion rights will not affect the resulting investigation.
“We’re certainly aware, of course, of the national dialogue right now, but we approach every investigation with the utmost integrity and detailed investigative skills possible,” Ladd said. “Regardless of the situation, every victim deserves justice.”
Ladd also said an experienced arson investigative team from the Denver Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been invited to aid in the investigation. In the meantime, police are trying to identify a potential suspect. A witness said they saw “an individual running away from the building with a gas can and black bag,” according to the initial statement posted on the Casper Police Department’s Facebook page.
“At this time, we do not have that person identified. We do believe that is potentially the suspect and we’ve been gathering surveillance footage throughout the day attempting to get some kind of still photo that will help us identify this individual with the public,” Ladd told KHOL in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Ladd also said that the high level of public interest in the incident means that her department will release more public information about the investigation than they generally would as details become available.
A written statement provided to KHOL Wednesday from Julie Burkhart, the founder of Wellspring Health Access, read:
“We are deeply distressed by the damage caused to our clinic as a result of this incident, but also grateful that no one was injured. We are working with law enforcement on their investigation. We believe that the people of Casper deserve access to comprehensive reproductive health care and will continue to do everything we can to accomplish that mission.”
An additional statement from Burkhart provided to KHOL Friday added that the fire damage will delay the clinic’s opening “by at least several weeks.”
“While this act of destruction is profoundly upsetting and presents new challenges, we remain unwavering in our commitment to ensuring that the people of Casper can access the reproductive health care they need,” Burkhart said. “When the needed repairs have been completed, we will open our clinic with the goal of providing the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including OB-GYN care, family planning, gender-affirming care and abortion care. We are deeply thankful for the support we have received from the Casper community and beyond for continuing our work.”
Burkhart also confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is participating in the investigation into the fire.
The only other provider of medical abortion services in Wyoming—available only during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy—is located in Jackson. Wellspring Health Access’ website says it expects to serve people not just from throughout Wyoming at the new clinic but also from “abortion desert” areas like Nebraska, western South Dakota and southeastern Montana.
The clinic has also said it’s committed to opening despite the recent passage of Wyoming’s new ‘trigger’ law, which will ban most abortions in the state should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade—a move that looks increasingly likely after the leaked draft majority opinion obtained by Politico in early May.
EDITOR’S NOTE 5/27 @ 11:50 A.M.: This story has been updated to include additional comments from Julie Burkhart and news that damage from the fire will delay the clinic’s opening.