The Cedar Rapids Fire Department responded to a car engulfed in flames in the parking lot of Planned Parenthood Health Center at 3 a.m. on Friday morning.
“There was a member of the cleaning crew working in the building at the time, but thankfully that person was not injured,” Becca Lee, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told Little Village. “The building sustained only very minor damage from the fire.”
The car that was destroyed belonged to the member of the cleaning crew, Lee said.
“We’re cooperating with local law enforcement, who are investigating the incident,” Lee said. She added that there had been no threats against the health center recently.
Cedar Rapids Public Information Officer Gail Loskill confirmed that the fire is under investigation, and the cause is currently considered undetermined.
Any fire at a Planned Parenthood facility raises suspicions of anti-abortion violence. The Cedar Rapids health center doesn’t provide any abortion services beyond providing referrals, but that would not prevent the center from being targeted. Planned Parenthood, in general, is a primary target an anti-abortion forces, and its name has been invoked repeatedly as bills limiting reproductive rights have been debated in this year’s legislative session at the Iowa capitol.
A bill that would outlaw the sale of fetal tissue advanced in the Iowa House of Representatives this week. In 2015, rightwing groups used a deceptively-edited video to claim Planned Parenthood clinics were selling fetal body parts. Although the claim was false, it is still a talking point used by opponents of reproductive choice. This week an Iowa House committee also added what would be one of the most severe restrictions on reproductive choice to the fetal tissue bill as an amendment.
In 2016, the National Abortion Federation published a study of violence and threats against clinics that provide abortion services since 1977. Between 1977 and 2016, there were 7,731 violent incidents attacking people or damaging property. There were a further 340,084 incidents of harassment, threats and obstruction that disrupted services at the clinic.
Those statistics do not include incidents at clinics like the Cedar Rapids Planned Parenthood Health Center that do not provide abortion services, but may be targeted anyway.
“The security of patients and our staff are of the utmost priority, so we have very tight safety and security protocols to make sure that everyone stays safe when they are working or are coming to our centers as a patient,” Lee said. “We take any incident very seriously.”