Vandals target Bethlehem House in Easthampton

  • Police are investigating vandalism that occurred to the Easthampton nonprofit organization, Bethlehem House, on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

  • Police are investigating vandalism that occurred to the Easthampton nonprofit organization, Bethlehem House, on Thursday.  ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SPRINGFIELD

  • Police are investigating vandalism at the Easthampton nonprofit Roman Catholic organization Bethlehem House reported Thursday. ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SPRINGFIELD

  • Police are investigating vandalism that occurred to the Easthampton nonprofit organization, Bethlehem House, on Thursday.  ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SPRINGFIELD

Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2022 8:56:54 PM
Modified: 8/18/2022 8:53:28 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Police are investigating an act of vandalism reported at the Bethlehem House early Thursday morning, according to Chief Robert Alberti.

Red and black spray-painted messages appeared on the sidewalk and benches in front of the city nonprofit. One message on the sidewalk reads, “If abortion’s aren’t safe, neither are you!” and another on side-by-side benches reads, “Jane’s Revenge.”

In addition to the sidewalk and benches, a no trespassing sign, which warns passers-by that the property is utilizing video surveillance, was covered in an unidentifiable image in black spray paint. Another sign, which reads “Bethlehem House Celebrates Life,” was also tagged with black spray paint in what appears to be a letter A with a circle around it. Red paint was also streaked across the side of the Knipfer Avenue building.

It is currently unclear what prompted the act of vandalism or at what time the incident occurred, police said.

Alberti said in an email that police are investigating the incident. “Because this is currently under investigation, we don’t have any additional details for release at this time,” he said.

The Bethlehem House describes itself as a pro-life ministry at which volunteers provide women and their families facing a crisis pregnancy with free diapers, wipes, baby clothes, strollers, pack-and-plays and car seats. The nonprofit receives support from the Springfield Diocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal.

Bishop William D. Byrne, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said that he was very sad to hear that vandals had targeted the Bethlehem House.

“The messages spray-painted on the outside of the building appear to have one purpose and that is to intimidate the good people who depend on the assistance provided there, along with those who volunteer at Bethlehem House whose sole purpose is to help women and their families facing a crisis pregnancy,” Byrne said in a statement. “No matter where you stand on the issue of abortion, I pray all people of goodwill will join me in condemning this act and all acts of vandalism and violence against any group. We are a people of life called to lead with love. That’s what we will continue to do. Please join me in praying for all affected by this incident.”

The graffiti, “Jane’s Revenge,” also appeared at Clearway Clinic in Worcester in July. Clearway describes itself as a women’s health clinic online and also has a location in Springfield. Under the state’s Corporations Division, the nonprofit organization is registered as a religious entity. While no one has taken responsibility for the vandalism in Easthampton, Jane’s Revenge has been cited in the national news media in recent months as an extreme, pro-abortion rights group behind acts of vandalism and violence around the country. 

The Bethlehem House has entered the spotlight in recent months after the City Council held two well-attended public hearings for a proposed ordinance designed to stop deceptive advertising practices by pregnancy centers offering limited services.

Under the originally drafted ordinance, brought forward by At-Large City Councilor Owen Zaret, no limited services pregnancy center, with the intent to perform a pregnancy-related service, would be allowed to make or disseminate “any statement concerning any pregnancy-related service or the provision of any pregnancy-related service that is deceptive, whether by statement or omission, and that a limited services pregnancy center knows or reasonably should know to be deceptive” through public advertising through the media or on the internet.

Violations of the ordinance could be subject to fines of up to $300.

Initially, the proposed ordinance was approved and recommended by the Ordinance Committee in a 3-0 vote, but was sent back to the committee in July after councilors raised concern that the phrasing of “deceptive practices” was not well delineated.

At both of the public hearings, several attendees cited concerns about the effect the ordinance could have on the Bethlehem House.

Zaret, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, condemned the vandalism.

“Vandalism of any kind for any purpose has no place in our community or country. This is an act of extremism and terrorism. We settle disagreements through conversation, not through violence,” said Zaret in a statement to the Gazette. “As a resident it makes me sorrowful that such hate exists within our midst.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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