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Clinic founders release statement upon arrest of arson suspect

Pro-choice protesters stand in front of the Wellspring Health Access clinic on Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Casper. The protesters showed up at the vandalized and vacant clinic to show support for a court ruling against Wyoming's trigger law that would ban abortions. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News File)

CASPER, Wyo. — The founders of the women’s health clinic severely damaged by arson last May have released a statement upon the arrest of a suspect this week.

“We at Wellspring Health Access are relieved that a suspect has finally been arrested and detained in last May’s horrific arson attack,” the statement read. “This arson, one of at least five arson attacks against abortion providers in the past 18 months, caused $290,000 worth of damage and created a ripple of apprehension and fear across the Casper community.”

While the perpetrator remained at large with no suspects, “our team has worked tirelessly to renovate the facility … so that we can finally open our doors to the patients who need us,” the statement read.

The clinic was to be the first in Wyoming to provide surgical abortions among its services. It is also poised to provide a full range of reproductive healthcare services, including family planning, OB/GYN and STD/STI testing.

Clinic founder and Circle of Hope Director Julie Burkhart said last year that the nonprofit’s goal is to provide the service in areas termed “abortion deserts,” where access is extremely limited.

The news comes amidst a year of upheaval in protections for abortion access in both federal and Wyoming law. With last year’s Supreme Court decision turning the matter over to the states, Wyoming passed a law last year banning abortion in most cases in the event that Roe v. Wade was overturned, which occurred in June.

That law was challenged by stakeholders including Circle of Hope, and remains under a preliminary injunction, according to Wyofile.

Two new bills were passed this session banning abortion in most cases, one including felony penalties for offending physicians. That law was blocked by a ruling in the Ninth District on Tuesday, according to Wyofile.