A 42-year-old man has been charged with arson after he set a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, MO on fire last month, authorities said. The clinic is the only abortion provider left in the state and the criminal act took place amid increases in the incendiary rhetoric used by anti-choice advocates and lawmakers such as President Donald Trump.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Wesley Kaster was arrested Saturday in connection with a pre-dawn attack on Planned Parenthood-Columbia Health Center on February 10. Authorities said Kaster broke the clinic’s glass front door before placing a "seemingly heavy" bucket inside and throwing a "Molotov cocktail-type device" into the building. The fire was extinguished by the building’s sprinkler system and no one was hurt because the attempt took place in the early hours of the morning.
The Columbia Fire Department also recovered two five-gallon buckets of gasoline at the scene, according to the criminal complaint. Surveillance footage showed Kaster leaving the clinic and authorities said there was also video of his wife Cris Kaster at a nearby Lowe’s purchasing the same supplies that were used to set the clinic on fire.
Kaster’s attempt at burning down the clinic is not an isolated incident. According to the National Abortion Federation, which tracks violence against abortion providers, 2017 saw an uptick in incidents that ranged from trespassing and hate mail to the first attempted clinic bombing in years.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains president Brandon Hill said in a statement Monday that the organization was grateful for law enforcement’s efforts to solve the crime. “Let this send a clear message: Blocking access to essential health care is against the law, whether it takes the form of violence and vandalism or threats against our patients, our providers, or our supporters," Hill added. "With sexual and reproductive health care under attack in Missouri, our mission is more important than ever before. Health care is a human right, and we will not stop fighting for the rights of our patients. Our doors are open in Columbia, and we remain committed to serving this community.”
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