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The Casper Clinic that provides abortion services opens 11 months after arson incident

A beige, nondescript building.
Kamila Kudelska
Wyoming Public Media

As the fight over abortion rights continues, a clinic in Casper that provides both surgical and medical abortion is finally open. The clinic was torched by an arsonist last spring. The arson suspect was arrested and charged in mid-March.

It took eleven months for the clinic to open its doors after the arson last year. It is now the only clinic in Wyoming to provide surgical abortions and the second to provide medical abortions. Wellspring Health Access’ president and founder Julie Burkhart said the arson incident and the weekly protests outside of the clinic do not deter them.

“We were going to stay in it,” said Burkhart. “I always come back to ‘What is the mission?’ The mission is we are here to help people gain access to quality reproductive health care.”

Burkhart said since its opening there have been many calls and inquiries.

“People are calling us, messaging us. It's very clear that people want to make appointments and they want to come to our clinic for care,” she said.

Burkhart said now that the clinic is open, she’s working to ensure it’s a part of the community healthcare system.

Negative Response

On Thursday, April 20, Casper Mayor Bruce Knell responded to an Oil City News story about the Wellspring Health Access clinic opening by posting a picture of a fire.

Oil City News called Knell and asked him to clarify. He told the reporter that he wasn’t calling for violence. He said the fire was meant to evoke hell.

“I posted that because that’s where [people who choose abortions] are going to end up,” Knell told Oil City News. “That’s what God says. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.’ To me, that’s God speaking via Jeremiah [1.5].”

Oil City News deleted the post per internal policy.

President of Wellspring Health Access Julie Burkhart said she doesn’t condone violence and that she plans to reach out to the Casper Mayor and start a discussion.

Abortion in the state 

Abortion is currently legal in the state. But that’s only because a Teton County judge has put a temporary stay on an abortion ban until a decision is made by the courts. This is the second ban passed by state lawmakers. In addition to banning abortions, it criminalizes providers who perform or administer medication for abortions. The first ban attempt was repealed when the second ban became law.

In a 32-page restraining order, Teton County Judge Melissa Owens said that a woman's right to make her own health care decisions is explicitly protected by the Wyoming constitution.

She said the near-total abortion ban, The Right to Human Life, passed by state lawmakers earlier this year, strips that right from pregnant women.

Owens issued a temporary hold on the ban in March, saying without it, the plaintiffs could suffer irreparable harm.

A group of abortion supporters, including a Teton County abortion provider and a nurse, are challenging the ban. Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde has been defending the ban for the plaintiffs.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. She has won a regional Murrow award for her reporting on mental health and firearm owners. During her time leading the Wyoming Public Media newsroom, reporters have won multiple PMJA, Murrow and Top of the Rockies Excellence in Journalism Awards. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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