Woman Who Set Fire To Wyoming Abortion Clinic Pleads Guilty To Arson

The damage caused by the 22-year-old abortion opponent kept the clinic from opening for almost a year.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — An abortion opponent who told 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 pleaded guilty to a federal arson charge Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson accepted Lorna Roxanne Green’s agreement with prosecutors at a change-of-plea hearing. Green, 22, will face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she’s sentenced.

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

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 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 the kind in the state in at least a decade. Before it opened, only one other clinic in Wyoming — in Jackson, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) away — provided abortions, and only by pill.

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

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

Lorna Roxanne Green appears in a booking photo / The fire-damaged Wellspring Health Access clinic is cordoned by tape, May 25, 2022, in Casper, Wyo.
Lorna Roxanne Green appears in a booking photo / The fire-damaged Wellspring Health Access clinic is cordoned by tape, May 25, 2022, in Casper, Wyo.
Platte County Sheriff's Office via AP; Mead Gruver / Associated Press

She told a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent she 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, matching 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 pouring gasoline into the pans in several rooms and on the floor before lighting it, according to the document.

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

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 some interpreted as sympathizing with the fire attack.

The fire and plans for Wellspring Health Access — led by longtime abortion advocate Julie Burkhart, a former associate of assassinated Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller — occurred amid a contentious backdrop for abortion in Wyoming. Women in the rural state often go to Colorado and other nearby states 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 v. Wade decision. Wyoming’s ban stood to harm women and their doctors who sued to contest the ban, Owens ruled.

Since then, Owens has suspended a new abortion ban written to try to overcome the first ban’s legal shortcomings, as well as Wyoming’s first-in-the-nation explicit ban on abortion pills, which had been set to take effect July 1.

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

___ Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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