Planned Parenthood health center in Modesto reopens

As the arson investigation into the May 25 fire at the Planned Parenthood Modesto Health Center continues, the McHenry Avenue facility has reopened and a prayer vigil will be held there Sunday.

“The health center is open today with limited services for express visits,” Liz Figueroa, vice president of public affairs for San Jose-based Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, said Thursday. Services being offered include birth control, pregnancy tests and oral contraceptives. “Things are going smoothly; patients are being seen,” she added.

Figueroa said about one-third of the two-story building at 1431 McHenry suffered water damage. “We were very fortunate in that the fire sprinklers did their work.”

In an online letter the day of the fire, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte President and CEO Linda Williams said there appears to be no structural damage to the building. “The fire was reported shortly before 4 a.m., and fire investigators at the scene found that someone had apparently thrown a gas can through one of the glass doors and ignited it,” she wrote. “The fire damage was contained to the immediate area, and, as often happens during this type of incident, the rest of the damage appears to be caused by the sprinkler system.”

Her letter went on to say, “This incident is only the latest attack on Planned Parenthood health centers across the country as threats and attacks against our services, staff and sites have escalated nine-fold over the past year. These assaults are the result of a well-orchestrated smear campaign by anti-reproductive rights zealots that has spread to Congress and the violent fringe, resulting in four arson attacks within three months at our health centers around the country. The attack in Modesto makes it five.”

To show support for Planned Parenthood’s mission, staff and patients, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County plans to hold a vigil outside the health center Sunday afternoon. “People of all faiths and no faith are invited to gather in the spirit of solidarity, compassion and justice on Sunday at 1 p.m.,” the Rev. Darcy Baxter, the church’s minister, wrote in an email. “We will show our support for the important care Planned Parenthood provides to our community and remind ourselves that in the face of violence, we stand on the side of love.”

Baxter said she has no idea how many people will turn out for the vigil but hopes for 30 to 50. She said representatives from the faith community will offer brief words and prayers. The afternoon will be hot, she said, and “the most important thing we can do is just gather to show support, and I think we can do that within 30 minutes.”

Dustin Bruley, Stanislaus County Fire Investigation Unit coordinator and District Attorney’s Office criminal investigator, said investigators have finished canvassing businesses around the Planned Parenthood center to gather surveillance images. They’re still being reviewed, he said, but so far have yielded no suspect information.

Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to call 209-525-5550.

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327