Police: New York anti-abortion center damaged by arson

AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) — Police are investigating a fire at an anti-abortion center in a Buffalo suburb early Tuesday as a likely arson — one the center’s operators suspect is the work of women’s rights extremists.

The fire was reported at about 3 a.m. and left the building temporarily unusable, CompassCare Chief Executive Jim Harden said.

“Essentially, they firebombed the operation,” Harden said. “They broke the two main windows in the reception area and the nurse’s office and lit the fires.”

The Amherst police news release announcing the investigation did not include a suspected motive. The FBI declined to comment on whether it was involved in the arson investigation.

On its website, the center said it and others like it have faced online and in-person threats in recent weeks following the leak of a draft opinion that suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Last month, the office of a prominent Wisconson anti-abortion lobby group was damaged by fire after two Molotov cocktails were thrown at it. Police said an anti-abortion organization in Salem, Oregon, also recently was damaged by two Molotov cocktails during an unsuccessful break-in attempt.

Harden said CompassCare provides free health care to women and encourages them to seek alternatives to abortion. The Buffalo office serves about 20 patients each week, he said.

Services will resume Wednesday at an undisclosed location, he said. The Rochester-based organization has increased security at its Rochester and Albany locations and plans to install armored glass in the Buffalo office.

At a news conference, Harden said the vandals who set the fire wrote “Jane was here” on the building.

“This is the face of abortion,” he said. “They’re revealing it to us.”

The fire took place in the same Buffalo suburb where Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 1998.

That killing followed a period in which Buffalo was ground zero in the nation's anti-abortion movement, with protesters converging on the city from around the U.S. in an attempt to close clinics down.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last month the state would give abortion providers $35 million to expand services and boost security in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision. Besides Slepian, at least 10 other people have been slain across the U.S. by anti-abortion zealots since 1993 in attacks on clinics and health care providers.

Harden said the fire shows that groups opposed to abortion deserve security help, too.

“We haven’t gotten a single dime for security,” Harden said.

In an emailed statement, Hochul's office said the governor "condemns violence of any kind, and the State Police stand ready to assist local authorities with the investigation.”