A fire that broke out at a Planned Parenthood center this week in Southern California was intentionally ignited by someone who tossed a container with a flammable liquid through a window at the facility, authorities confirmed Thursday.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office reported that emergency crews responded to the scene around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday and found a small area of the building on fire. Most of the damage in the lobby area was caused by water from the sprinkler system, and no one was inside the building at the time, police said.
“After a thorough inspection of the fire scene, investigators determined an unknown suspect wearing clothing to protect his identity,” a police report read. “Based on the evidence at the scene, investigators have been able to establish the cause of the fire as arson.”
The deliberate attack on Planned Parenthood occurred just hours after Congress approved a temporary spending bill that continued funding for the embattled group, over the objections of Republicans who said they would allow the government to shut down before they approved more funding for a women's health organization that provides access to abortions.
The move to defund Planned Parenthood came in response to the release of a series of highly edited videos, secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group, which show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of fetal tissue for research. Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing -- including accusations that it illegally altered abortion procedures to obtain better samples -- saying it only accepts small sums to cover necessary costs.
On Thursday, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein decried the arson attack and linked it to the current political backlash against Planned Parenthood by anti-abortion conservatives.
“The toxic rhetoric directed at Planned Parenthood has dangerous consequences.” the Democrat said in a statement. “It sends a signal that using violence to close clinics and intimidate health care professionals and women is ‘ok’. It is not.”
Jenna Tosh, president and CEO of the Thousand Oaks Planned Parenthood center that came under attack, said in a statement that the damage was being repaired and "our doors [will open] as quickly as possible.”
“These acts of violence are unacceptable and they will not be successful,” she said. “These criminals will never break our resolve to provide the compassionate care that our patients need and deserve.”
In an often contentious hearing on Tuesday that lasted for more than five hours, Planned Parenthood for America President Cecile Richards testified before a House committee to answer questions about federal funding for the women’s health organization.
Throughout the hearing, Richards said she was "proud" of her organization's work supporting fetal tissue research. She also dismissed the edited videos and said employees shown discussing the practice were victims of a "smear campaign."
"The sensationalistic atmosphere the doctored videos seek to create is exactly the opposite of the reasoned and deliberate process President Reagan set in motion with the Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel," Richards said. "The videos mislead rather than inform the public debate. The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue.”