A new abortion clinic in ultra-conservative Wyoming has sparked strong emotions, with the mayor of the state’s second-largest city apologizing for a Facebook post others say sparked an arson attack that delayed the opening of the clinic for nearly a year.
The post was meant to suggest hellfire, not violence, Casper Mayor Bruce Knell said in a long and sometimes tearful statement in which he apologized to city residents.
“In bad taste, I made a comment that I felt was misinterpreted. I didn’t post a picture of a burning building. I didn’t do that. I posted a picture of a guy dancing on fire because of my religious belief: If you sin against God, you go to hell unless you repent,” Knell said at the end of Tuesday’s city council meeting where more than a dozen. people speak for and against the clinic.
Wyoming lawmakers passed a law banning abortion except in cases of rape or incest reported to the police, or when the mother’s life is in danger. A state district court judge imposed the ban stopped while the case against it continues. The state also approved a first-in-the-nation ban on abortion pills, set to take effect in July.
In May, a woman walked into the Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper and lit gasoline she had stashed and sprinkled around the facility as it prepared to open, according to police.
the clinic finally opened April 20 and Knell’s Facebook post was in response to a news article about it posted by Oil City, a local online news outlet. Knell then said in Oil City he did not intend to incite violence and the news outlet removed the original story and comments from Facebook, citing an unspecified policy.
The mayor’s post nonetheless drew attention, including from Wellspring, which had representatives and supporters at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“For the mayor to post an image of fire in response to Wellspring’s last opening, even if it’s not directly referring to arson, is reckless and cruel. Casper deserves better,” said Holly Thompson, a member of Wellspring’s board of directors, at the meeting.
Knell said people shouldn’t confuse his personal anti-abortion views with his position as mayor that new business is welcome in Casper. But he clarified his personal views on the meeting, saying he was “just trying to provide information” about the possible dangers of the afterlife.
Knell also said he knew from the start that the post would cause controversy.
“You didn’t think for a minute when I posted that I didn’t know I was going to get it? I knew what was coming. But I tell you, I am strong in my faith. I’m OK with what I said. I just wish I had said it differently so it wouldn’t have offended anyone,” he said.
The mayor will not listen to calls to resign, he said to applause.
The fire caused nearly $300,000 in damage to the clinic. Police had no suspects until March, when tipsters who responded to a higher reward in the case led them to Lorna Green.
The 22-year-old Casper college student allegedly told investigators she was against abortion and set fire to the clinic because it gave her anxiety and nightmares. Green, who has since been released from prison, has not yet entered a plea.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. His attorney, Ryan Semerad, says he looks forward to defending him in court.