Knoxville Planned Parenthood Clinic Burned Down by Anti-Abortion Extremists: “A Huge Loss for the Community”

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A Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville, Tenn., burned down early on New Year’s Eve. The clinic was closed for renovations at the time of the fire. (Knoxville Fire Department / Facebook)

On New Year’s Eve, anti-abortion extremists burned down the Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville—the organization’s only branch in East Tennessee. Fire department officials confirmed Thursday the cause of the fire was intentional arson.

Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi (PPTNM) said the organization was “devastated” by the loss.

The fire is the second act of violence against the clinic in the past year. On Jan. 22, 2021—the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision—a masked anti-abortion protester fired a shotgun at the clinic doors, resulting in serious damage to the entrance and reception area. At the time of both the shooting last year and the fire this year, the clinic was closed and no one was in the building. No suspects are yet in custody for either crime, and investigations are ongoing.

The Knoxville violence is symptomatic of increasing threats against abortion providers across the U.S. Anti-abortion extremists are no doubt feeling emboldened by the unconstitutional six-week abortion ban in Texas (in effect for over four months) as well as a likely ruling against abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In 2021, members of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) reported a dramatic escalation in anti-abortion activity.

Of course, anti-abortion violence has been a nationwide crisis for abortion providers for years. In a national clinic violence survey conducted by Feminist Majority Foundation in 2017, 52 percent of responding clinics said they experienced threats and intimidation, such as stalking and harassing. Violent incidents at abortion clinics more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, according to the National Abortion Federation—from 521 incidents to 1,081, respectively. In 2019 (the most recent year complete figures were published), there were almost 2,000 acts of violence at abortion clinics.

Planned Parenthood has vowed to rebuild the clinic and welcomes donations to support this effort. The Knoxville Fire Department is asking community members with any information related to the fire to call 1-800-762-3017 or email [email protected]. There is a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the prosecution of criminal activity related to the arson, and all calls are confidential. 

“This is a huge loss for the community. … We are heartbroken at the loss of our beautiful new building, but I’m here to tell you that we are committed to Knoxville and East Tennessee, and we are determined to rebuild,” Ashley Coffield, CEO of PPTNM, told media on Thursday at the site of the burned-down clinic. “Knoxville wants Planned Parenthood, our patients need us to be here and we are going to be here.”

You may also like: American Terrorism: Abortion Clinics on the Front Lines (with Diane Derzis, Dr. Monica McLemore and Frances Kissling)

Listen below, or head to the podcast episode landing page for a transcript, background reading and more.

Clinic escorts watch an anti-abortion protester in the back entrance of Jackson Women’s Health Organization on August 19, 2021 in Jackson, Mississippi. (Montinique Monroe / Ms. magazine)

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About

Roxy Szal is the digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast "On the Issues With Michele Goodwin." Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.