Advertisement

Woman pleads guilty to arson of a Wyoming abortion clinic

Yellow caution tape blocks steps leading up to a small building with a lawn and large tree
Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper, Wyo., was damaged in last year’s arson fire.
(Mead Gruver / Associated Press)
Share

An abortion opponent pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal arson charge after telling investigators that anxiety and nightmares about plans for Wyoming’s first full-service abortion clinic in years led her to break into and burn the facility.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson accepted Lorna Roxanne Green’s agreement with prosecutors at a change-of-plea hearing. Green, 22, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing, which the judge scheduled for Oct. 6.

“While I deeply regret my actions, I accept full responsibility for what I have done,” Green told the judge.

Advertisement

The fire happened at the Wellspring Health Access clinic in May 2022, weeks before it was to open. The damage kept the clinic from opening for almost a year.

Federal investigators say Green admitted to breaking in and lighting gasoline she had poured around the inside of the building, according to court documents.

The clinic, which opened in April, provides surgical and pill abortions, making it the first of its kind in the state in at least a decade. Only one other clinic in Wyoming — in Jackson, some 250 miles away — provides abortions, and only by pill.

A year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, leaving abortion decisions to states, where is abortion banned or protected? What comes next?

June 25, 2023

Wellspring President Julie Burkhart said Thursday she was “heartened” that Green had taken responsibility for the fire.

“It saddens me that someone so young could commit such a heinous act that was so reckless and could have killed people,” said Burkhart, a longtime abortion rights advocate and former associate of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who was assassinated in Kansas in 2009.

The attack on the Wyoming clinic caused almost $300,000 in damage. The delayed opening potentially left people who were seeking abortions or contraception without options, Burkhart said.

Advertisement

Abortion has remained legal in Wyoming amid a lawsuit challenging new bans, including what would be the nation’s first explicit ban on abortion pills. A judge has blocked the laws while the lawsuit proceeds.

Though Green told investigators she opposed abortion, the Casper College student showed no sign of antiabortion views on social media. Green is from Casper and was living in Laramie at the time of the fire.

She told a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent that she’d bought gas cans and aluminum pans the day before the fire, drove to Casper, and carried the cans and pans to the clinic in a bag. Her story matched security video and a witness’ account, according to a court filing.

She admitted to using a rock to break glass in a door to enter, and to pouring gasoline into the pans in several rooms and on the floor, then lighting it, according to the document.

Investigators said they had made little progress in finding who started the fire until a reward was increased to $15,000 in March, leading several tipsters to identify Green.

Ryan Semerad, Green’s attorney, described her as a good person who “did something that was very wrong.”

Advertisement

When the judge asked Green whether she knew at the time that burning the clinic wasn’t right, Green hesitated and said: “I knew right after.”

Green acknowledged that she was in treatment for a mental illness, but said she wasn’t taking prescription drugs and did not provide additional details. At one point, she smiled at her family members in the courtroom.

A former abortion clinic in Alabama evolves amid bans on caring for uninsured patients and offering post-miscarriage treatment and transgender care.

April 28, 2023

While Green has remained publicly quiet about her views, many other clinic opponents have not. Protesters gather outside the facility regularly, and in May, Casper Mayor Bruce Knell apologized for a Facebook post about the clinic that some interpreted as sympathizing with the fire attack.

The fire and plans for Wellspring Health Access occurred amid a contentious backdrop for abortion in Wyoming. Women in the rural state often go to nearby states, including Colorado, for abortions.

Last summer, Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens suspended an abortion ban that took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. Since then, Owens has also suspended a new ban written to try to overcome the first one’s legal shortcomings, as well as a ban on abortion pills.

Owens has expressed sympathy with arguments that a 2012 state constitutional amendment guaranteeing Wyoming residents’ right to make their own healthcare decisions conflicted with the bans.

Advertisement