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Two explosions rock abortion clinic building; six injured

January 16, 1997

ATLANTA (AP) _ Two explosions rocked a building containing an abortion clinic an hour apart today, and police said it appeared the clinic was targeted by an ``explosive device.″ Six people were injured.

The explosions, which came as abortion rights advocates were announcing in Washington that anti-abortion violence had declined slightly, shattered windows across the street and terrified bystanders.

President Clinton condemned the explosions as ``a vile and malevolent act″ of terrorism.

``Make no mistake: Anyone who brings violence against a woman trying to exercise her constitutional rights is committing an act of terror,″ Clinton said.

The first explosion was reported at 9:30 a.m. at the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Services, located on the ground floor of a five-story building that houses offices of lawyers, dentists and other professionals. No injuries were reported.

An hour later, an explosion erupted from a trash container outside the building, injuring six people.

``It appears that the clinic was the target of (that) explosion,″ said police Lt. C.C. Cass. ``We can’t confirm, but it appears to be some kind of explosive device.″

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent investigating the first explosion had to be helped from the building and was taken to a hospital for observation. Two other people were treated and released, while three more were hospitalized for observation.

``I saw a couple of guys that were hurt,″ said Mitchell Swain, who was sitting in his car outside the building when the second blast came. ``They were on the ground. One guy was bleeding. Another guy was holding his head.″

A half hour after the second explosion, the Piedmont Clinic, an abortion center about a half-mile from the Atlanta Northside clinic, was evacuated after receiving a bomb threat. Police officers have been sent to other abortion clinics around the city as a precaution; the clinics said they would remain open.

Geralyn Thompson, a counselor at the Northside clinic, said she believed the first explosion occurred in the ceiling of the first floor. A co-worker, Antoinette Sims, said she saw ceiling tiles falling.

``It shook the entire building,″ Ms. Sims said. ``The clinic was in ruins.″

Both women said they knew of no threats or protests before the explosions.

Outside, two cars near the trash container were heavily damaged, and police evacuated everyone within 500 yards of the building.

Witnesses who had gathered outside after the first explosion heard a loud boom and felt the concussion when the second one went off. They could see a bright flash and debris flying in the air.

The first explosion rocked nearby buildings as well.

``It shook the actual wall of my office, and I have a lot of glass around me,″ said Craig Harris, sales manager at Auto Data Inc., across the street. ``It definitely scared me. It sounded like an extremely close thunder strike ... but there was no rain. My second thought was that it was an explosion.″

In Washington, at a news conference scheduled before the bombing, the Feminist Majority said there were fewer violent acts or threats against abortion clinics last year than in 1995.

A survey of 312 clinics showed about 30 percent of clinics reported acts or threats of violence last year, down from 39 percent in 1995. from 1995. The groups also noted that Wednesday will mark the 24th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, said the explosions showed ``that abortion violence is a problem that is continuing at unacceptable levels.″

Last month, there were three arson attempts at the A-Z Women’s Center in Phoenix, Ariz.; an armed robbery at Planned Parenthood of Dallas and Northeast Texas; and a doctor was stabbed at a Baton Rouge, La., abortion clinic.

Justice Department figures show that from 1993 through 1995, there were 15 or 16 bombings and arsons at abortion clinics per year. That total dropped to only seven last year, spokesman Bert Brandenburg said.

In 1994, John Salvi killed two receptionists at abortion clinics in Massachusetts and former minister Paul Hill used a shotgun to kill two men outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic. A year earlier, Dr. David Gunn was shot to death at another Pensacola clinic.

Hill was the first person convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law, and was sentenced to two life terms.

Since the law took effect in 1994, the Justice Department has brought 15 criminal and 12 civil cases for blockading entrances or harassing doctors or patients at abortion clinics.