Predawn explosions, spaced 11 minutes and one mile apart, yesterday ripped through a Wheaton abortion clinic and a Planned Parenthood family planning center in Rockville, Montgomery County police reported. No one was injured in either blast.
The apparent bombings are the latest in a growing number of similar fires and bombings at abortion clinics from Washington state to Washington, D.C., according to the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The bureau is investigating the explosions, along with Montgomery County police and fire officials and the Maryland State Fire Marshal's office.
Since May 1982, agents from the ATF have investigated 25 arson incidents or bombings of abortion clinics nationwide -- including 20 that occurred this year. Under the Explosives Controls Act of 1970, the bureau is the federal agency with jurisdiction over federal arson and bombing laws.
Montgomery fire officials said late yesterday they suspected that bombs caused the explosions at the Metropolitan Medical and Women's Center at 3924 Ferrara Dr. in Wheaton and at the Randolph Medical Clinic at 4701 Randolph Rd. in Rockville, but had not yet confirmed that. Abortions are performed at the Wheaton Clinic, but the Rockville office houses a Planned Parenthood center that counsels women on methods of contraception, including abortion referral. No one has claimed responsibility for the explosions.
The 6:18 a.m. explosion at the Wheaton clinic shook the structure and sparked a two-alarm fire that resulted in at least $350,000 in damages, according to preliminary estimates by Montgomery fire officials. The blazeless explosion at the Rockville office caused an estimated $50,000 in damages, according to preliminary assessments.
Leaders of two local anti-abortion groups that staged a demonstration that resulted in 46 arrests Saturday at the Wheaton clinic and the executive director of the Maryland Right to Life Inc., which claims 42,000 members, were quick to condemn the apparent bombings.
Chris Ward, pastor of the Covenant Life Christian Community in Wheaton, whose members have picketed the Wheaton clinic every Saturday this year, said, "Our group had nothing to do with it. We repudiate the use of violence and the destruction of property. . . . "
Harry Hand, president of the Pro-Life Nonviolent Action Center, which claims 1,000 members, echoed Ward's sentiments. Hand, who was arrested along with 45 other members of his group at the Wheaton clinic Saturday, said of the apparent bombing, "I denounce it. . . . "
Yesterday's explosions followed earlier bombings this year at clinics in Prince George's County, the District of Columbia and Annapolis.
Judy Goldsmith, president of the National Organization for Women, criticized the spread of attacks across the nation.
"If any other institutions -- churches, schools or even commercial enterprises such as MacDonald's -- were being bombed at the rate of one every two weeks, President Reagan would certainly repudiate it strongly, publicly," she said. "Instead, by his own inflammatory rhetoric, including evoking words like 'murder' and 'Holocaust' in the context of abortion, he certainly gives aid and comfort to these people who are engaged in vigilante tactics."
White House Deputy Press Secretary Peter H. Roussel said, "The president abhors violence in any form."
At an afternoon press conference, pro-choice groups accused anti-abortionists of "terrorism" and called on Reagan to speak out against the bombings.
"This is not simply a local story," said Barbara Radford, executive director of the National Abortion Federation. "These are the latest in a list of orchestrated acts by common criminals."
Jack C. Killorin, chief of public affairs for the ATF, said federal investigators have gotten convictions in eight of the 25 incidents the bureau has investigated since 1982.