LONGMONT, Colo. — Nearly everything was lost in the firebombing of the Life Choices Pregnancy Medical Center, but Executive Director Kathy Roberts goes back to the little things as she takes stock of the damage.
The gift bags and boxes filled with baby items that had just been decorated by a local artist. The “beautiful art deco clock” hanging over the fireplace. The children’s clothing that survived the fire but was too smoky to save.
“We had just upgraded with new paint,” Ms. Roberts said as she stepped gingerly through the gutted main level. “We had all these donations from people who came and painted for us and paid for our paint, and it looked so pretty. In fact, that Saturday, they were going to finish up with painting downstairs.”
The final paint job never happened. At 3:17 a.m. on June 25, hours after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and a constitutional right to abortion, Longmont Public Safety responded to a call about a fire at the center, located in a quiet residential community about 40 miles north of Denver.
Video showed the firebombers wore dark hoodies, carried backpacks and rode bikes. One of the neighbors reported hearing a “loud boom,” she said, an indication that the perpetrators used an incendiary device such as a Molotov cocktail.
“That’s probably why there’s so much extensive damage. It looked like a bomb went off when you went in there afterward,” Ms. Roberts said. “Everything was strewn, like the chairs. It looked like somebody had thrown them.”
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The police and FBI are investigating, but the attack looks like the handiwork of Jane’s Revenge. The radical group boasts photos of the damage on its website, and the building was tagged with an anarchist “A” and black graffiti warning, “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you.”
The wreckage from the flames, soot and smoke, compounded with water damage from the fire hoses, was so extensive that demolition crews had to strip the 37-year-old building’s interior to its wooden frame.
The ultrasound machines for expectant mothers survived, but virtually everything else, including the copy machine, computers, furniture and medical equipment, was destroyed.
Ms. Roberts has found a temporary location to serve clients as she works to restore the nearly 6,000-square-foot center, a process that could take eight months to a year. She estimated the cost to be about $250,000, although that figure could rise, and there is no guarantee the center won’t be attacked again.
“The radical groups, I just don’t understand how they can go to this extent. It’s one thing to not agree; it’s another thing to damage and threaten. And we have been threatened before, and since then,” Ms. Roberts said. “We did have someone call the line and say that it was too bad that we didn’t burn down, but next time. … Then they said, ‘Burn, you religious freak.’”
While pro-choice groups and many mainstream media outlets focus on the threats of violence from groups that oppose abortion, far less attention has been paid to pregnancy resource centers across the nation like Life Choices. They are picking up the pieces after sustaining minor vandalism, arson and more violent attacks since the May 1 leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion foreshadowing the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The CatholicVote tracker lists 64 attacks in the past four months on the facilities, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. That figure doesn’t include incidents that have gone unreported for fear of drawing unwanted attention.
“Various terror groups have issued threats against them on social media since the decision was made, with one group urging its followers to ‘mask up, stay dangerous,’” CatholicVote said.
Life as a target
The centers are resolutely reopening while adapting to life with targets on their backs. Life Choices is fenced in as crews work on the building. Ms. Roberts said she will soon have round-the-clock security.
“I think the biggest concern for me right now is: Will [clients] feel safe?” Ms. Roberts said. “This has taken on such a life of its own when you think of not just the extent of the damage, but the emotional impact. ‘Wow, the place was firebombed? Is it going to be safe to go in there?’”
The three firebombing incidents have been in blue states with lenient abortion laws. CompassCare in Buffalo, New York, sustained major damage on June 7 from an incendiary device, as did First Image Pregnancy Resource Center in Gresham, Oregon, which was targeted on June 11.
CompassCare reopened last month. First Image estimated that it will take six to nine months before it can resume services.
The centers also are facing political pressure in the charged atmosphere since the Supreme Court handed down its decision. Pro-choice Democratic lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels are accusing crisis pregnancy centers of deceiving women about the risks of abortion and misleading them by refusing to provide abortion referrals.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, introduced legislation to “stop these deceptive practices and ensure every American can access the abortion care they need.” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, signed a bill in June to study “limited service pregnancy centers,” which could lay the groundwork for a regulatory crackdown.
“Crisis pregnancy centers (also called CPCs or fake clinics) are clinics or mobile vans that look like real health centers, but they have a shady, harmful agenda: to scare, shame, or pressure you out of getting an abortion, and to tell lies about abortion, birth control and sexual health,” Planned Parenthood stated in an alert to members late last year.
Pro-life advocates have accused Democrats of inflaming tensions with baseless charges. They say the nonprofit centers should be commended instead of vilified for providing myriad free goods and services to struggling pregnant women.
“We have maternity clothes for the mom. We give them a hospital bed when they go to the hospital. If our clients need a car seat, we have grants for that,” Ms. Roberts said. “One of our clients said the thing she loved the most is ‘I could call you and say this is a need I have and you helped me with it or helped me find where I could go.’”
Centers like Life Choices may not perform abortions or prescribe birth control pills, but, as pro-lifers point out, Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer free parenting classes, maternity housing, diapers or job training.
“Our online classes are great. They cover a multitude of things like fatherhood, budgeting, the first nine months of pregnancy, parenting,” Ms. Roberts said. “We are there to help, and every need is different, and each client is unique.”
Ms. Roberts resents the implication that her center has tried to fool pregnant women or present itself as anything other than a Christian pro-life resource provider.
“That’s a lie, first of all. We do give information on our site,” she said. “Our site will say, ‘We do not refer for abortions or perform abortions.’ If they call our centers and they say, ‘I need a pregnancy test and I want an abortion,’ we do the same thing. We tell them that we do not perform abortions or refer for abortions.”
Unlike other centers, Life Choices operates under the supervision of a licensed physician, staffed by full-time registered nurses and part-time volunteer nurses. Women who agree to free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds must initial a form that reiterates the center’s policy against providing abortions and abortion referrals.
“We don’t dissuade women from having abortions, either, which I know is another one of those lies,” Ms. Roberts said. “When they come in, we empower them. We provide them with clarity about their choices. There’s only three. You know what they are: parenting, adoption and abortion. We don’t shame them to have a child.”
In addition, women who decide to terminate their pregnancies are invited to return and take advantage of free post-abortion counseling, as are men.
“Are we pro-life, are we Christian? Yes, we are. But Christ didn’t drag us to the cross,” Ms. Roberts said. “He didn’t do anything other than give us our choice. And that’s how we feel. People need to make choices. I hope that they can choose life, but if they don’t, we have classes for them. We tell them, ‘Don’t be alone after this. Come to us, let us help you work through this.’”
Such pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics nationally by an estimated 3-1 ratio. Even blue-state Colorado, which has no gestational limits on abortion, has about 50 pro-life centers versus 18 Planned Parenthood clinics, only 10 of which offer abortions, according to a 2019 analysis by The Colorado Sun.
Life Choices sits in the congressional district represented by Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican, but it borders unfriendly political turf. The famously left-wing university town of Boulder is less than 20 miles away. So is the Boulder Abortion Clinic, headed by Dr. Warren Hern, one of the nation’s best-known late-term abortion providers.
The response to the firebombing from the Colorado Democratic leadership was muted at best, prompting a rebuke from Denver Post conservative columnist Krista Kafer, who blasted “the silence of politicians and abortion advocacy organizations.”
The office of Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, issued a statement denouncing the attack.
“Gov. Polis condemns this act of vandalism and potential arson,” said Polis spokesperson Katherine Jones. “We are glad that no one was injured in this situation and are thankful for the first responders who acted quickly. Colorado is a place we want all people to feel safe in and we encourage everyone to work to better communities so that all Coloradans can thrive.”
Ms. Roberts said Life Choices has served 27,000 clients since 2010. “Before that, we weren’t counting” — and built up goodwill that is now paying dividends.
Church groups, former clients and supporters have reached out to help. Ms. Roberts suggests that they “throw a baby shower,” where people bring infant clothes, stuffed animals and other items to donate.
On a recent afternoon, neighbors stopped by to wish her well and shake their heads at the extent of the damage. A registered nurse drove up unannounced and offered to volunteer.
Life Choices is going ahead with its annual fundraiser, A Night for Life, scheduled for Sept. 8-9 at churches in Longmont and Loveland.
“It’s been tremendous,” Ms. Roberts said. “The outpouring of support from people all over the United States is going to allow us to be able to provide that service of safety for them.”
The attacks on pro-life resource centers have tailed off since peaking in May and June, according to the CatholicVote tracker. Four incidents were reported in August. That could mean that the worst is over for now.
“I think right now everything is so raw from the Roe v. Wade decision. There are just a lot of people who are angry,” Ms. Roberts said. “Hopefully, things will settle down.”