Planned Parenthood is taking a major step to increase access to abortions in the metro-east and the region with a new 18,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art clinic in Fairview Heights.
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region will expand abortion services in the new facility, providing both surgical and medication abortions. The facility on Salem Place near to the intersection of Interstate 64 and Illinois 159 is expected to begin seeing patients in late October.
“We are thrilled to be able to better serve our patients through this new center, both in Southern Illinois and around the region,” said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO. “Close to 5,000 people sought care at our Fairview Heights health center last year alone, and this new center will allow us to serve even more.”
The new center will replace the current Fairview Heights Health Center on Illinois 159, which offers medication abortions only. The new center, located at 317 Salem Place, previously was a medical building. Renovations, estimated at $7 million, have been underway for more than a year.
Colleen McNicholas, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, acknowledged that the facility was built in secret, using a shell company name and referring to the project as “Alaska” in house.
The organization kept its plans secret because of the stigma of abortions and targeted regulations in other states. The secrecy was to protect the project and keep it on schedule, Rodriguez said.
The location was chosen as a regional hub, possibly serving multiple states, with highway access, hotels and restaurants.
“We were really intentional and thoughtful about making sure that we were able to complete this project as expeditiously as possible because we saw the writing on the wall — patients need better access, so we wanted to get it open as quickly as we could,” McNicholas told CBS in August, which visited the facility while it was still under renovation.
However, Planned Parenthood officials said they plan to still fight for abortion rights in Missouri.
“Our expansion in Illinois should not be interpreted as a shift from our commitment to continuing the fight in Missouri,” McNicholas said.
“With only one abortion clinic in the state of Missouri, we have patients driving three and four hours to access that care, and with the current Missouri restrictions, that’s multiple times on multiple days, where they could drive an additional 13 miles to Hope Clinic and get that care the same day,” McNicholas said. “We are committed to helping patients get access to the are they need. Whether that’s with us or another organization.”
Rodriguez called Missouri the battle ground for reproductive health care and rights.
“We are ready to keep fighting for our patients because we know access to comprehensive medically accurate reproductive health services is a fundamental right and imperative in order to achieve gender equity,” Rodriguez said.
Fairview Heights Mayor Mark Kupsky said the city wasn’t aware of Planned Parenthood’s intentions to move into the former medical office. He said the city only knew that the building was being renovated and a medical organization planned to move into it.
“We did not necessarily know who the tenant was, but that’s not uncommon,” he said. “The zoning allows for that type of use.”
Kupsky said the city first learned of the move Wednesday morning when the news was announced.
However, he said, Planned Parenthood has practiced in Fairview Heights for 19 years. For the city, it’s no surprise when a business moves to a new building.
Planned Parenthood did not need approval from the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to relocate. It only needs to be licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to a review board official.
The current center offers family planning services, annual exams, sexually transmitted infection testing and HIV prevention. Those services will carry over to the new facility, according to a news release.
Fairview Heights’ current Planned Parenthood will continue operations until the new facility opens.
The Hope Clinic in Granite City currently is the only facility in Southern Illinois that provides surgical abortions. About half of the patients seeking abortions there are from Missouri.
Illinois ‘leading the way’ in reproductive health
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the new facility, Rodriguez, the president of Planned Parenthood, said she thinks Illinois is leading the nation when it comes to women’s reproductive health.
Her colleague McNicholas noted that the opening of the new facility doesn’t mean Planned Parenthood will leave St. Louis. She said they will provide abortion access there as long as they are allowed.
Dr. Erin King, of Granite City’s Hope Clinic, said during the news conference she has seen devastating effects of restrictions leading to barriers for women. She called Planned Parenthood a “strong partner.”
Most of patients at the 15,000-square-foot Hope Clinic facility are from out of state.
The clinic also has a billboard along Interstate 55 as people come in from Missouri that welcomes people to Illinois where abortion is legal.
“We would be so excited to add a partner to that billboard. We want that billboard to say, ‘You have choices. You have health care providers that will provide these services to you.’ We are beyond pleased we don’t have to be only name on that billboard,” King said.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said Wednesday she is proud Illinois is committed to expanding access to reproductive healthcare, calling that care “essential.” Stuart voted in favor of the Reproductive Health Act, along with State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis.
The law established access to abortion as a fundamental right.
The new clinic is in Stuart’s district. She thanked Planned Parenthood for expanding services in southwestern Illinois.
“As the state of Missouri moves toward blocking organizations like Planned Parenthood in their state, I’m proud that the state of Illinois is committed to helping those receive safe and affordable access to reproductive health care needs, wherever they may be,” Stuart said.
She was a co-sponsor of the Reproductive Healthcare Act.
“Doctors should not be threatened with criminal charges for providing essential medical care for patients, nor should patients for seeking that care,” Stuart said. “Medical decisions should be made between a patient and their doctor, not by elected officials like myself.”
Not all local legislators supported the measure, though, including some Democrats. State Reps. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey, and Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville, each voted against the act. State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, also opposed it.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, lauded the new facility.
“Planned Parenthood’s new office in Fairview Heights means more access to quality, comprehensive family planning and reproductive health care,” Durbin wrote in a statement.
Women from other states travel here
The number of out-of-state residents coming to Illinois for abortion services has increased in recent years. In 2014, there were 2,970 out-of-state residents coming to Illinois for an abortion. In 2017, it was 5,528 out-of-state residents.
Missouri’s only licensed abortion provider, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, will continue providing surgical abortions at the health center on Forest Park Avenue. Recently, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill prohibiting abortions at any stage in Missouri. However, a judge issued a temporary stay as the facility fights to keeps its license.
Abortion has been at the forefront of hot-button social issues recently, with states like Missouri and Alabama becoming more restrictive.
Missouri’s sole abortion provider is about 13 miles away from the new building in Fairview Heights. The state has attempted to yank the clinic’s license, though the effort is tied up in Missouri’s administrative hearing commission.
Planned Parenthood is also fighting Missouri in court over its new law to criminalize abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction pausing the abortion ban while it is litigated, the Kansas City Star reported.
After the state told Planned Parenthood it needed to perform pelvic exams before medication abortions last year, the St. Louis clinic stopped providing the service, saying that to perform the invasive procedure was unethical. Instead, it referred patients to Illinois clinics.
In recent years, Missouri passed several laws that restricted access to abortion, including making women go through a 72-hour waiting period. They also need to receive “informed consent” materials detailing the medical risks of abortion and describing where the fetus is at its current stage of development, according to the Washington Post.
Illinois’ Catholic bishops, including Bishop Edward K. Braxton of the Belleville Diocese, denounced the Reproductive Health Act when it was passed and signed into law in Illinois earlier this year.
A spokesman for the Belleville Diocese could not be reached for comment, and a statement from Braxton was not immediately available.
Abortion activist knew something was up
Angela Michael is an anti-abortion rights activist from Highland who has run twice for Congress from the Illinois 15th District.
Michael said there are more and more women from out-of-state coming to Hope Clinic for abortion services and called Illinois the country’s abortion capital.
Michael called the new Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights a “mega-facility.”
“It’s just disgusting, this is not what Illinois stands for,” she said.
Citizens have been present on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood’s existing facility on Illinois 159 since Sept. 25 with signs reading, “Pray to end abortion.” It’s part of a planned event of public prayer.
Planned Parenthood decided to reveal its facility now because of the events taking place during the annual 40 Days for Life demonstrations.
Illinois Right to Life Executive Director Mary Kate Knorr responded to the new facility’s announcement in a statement Wednesday. She called its construction a “strategic business move.”
“Let the executives of Planned Parenthood be aware that their stronghold here is temporary,” Knorr wrote. “We aren’t going anywhere. We will continue to fight to expose Planned Parenthood’s lies, manipulations, and their deep-seated hatred for the most vulnerable members of our human race.”
Michael said she didn’t think Planned Parenthood would be happy losing business to Hope Clinic in Granite City.
“I thought, ‘I know something is up,’” Michael said. ”I just didn’t know it would be Fairview Heights.”
Michael said because of the location off of Interstate 64 and Illinois 159, it would be hard for protesters to stand outside. There are no public sidewalks near the new building.
“And that’s what (Planned Parenthood) wanted,” Michael said.
Michael argued people on Medicaid in other states can take advantage of Illinois’ law that provide state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions. The law, commonly referred to as HB 40, was signed by previous Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
Rodriguez, the president of Planned Parenthood, said that wasn’t true and that out-of-state patients on Medicaid cannot get funding for abortions when they come to Illinois.
“The HB 40 law, that was signed by Gov. Rauner, does not allow the use of Illinois state funding for abortion, outside of Illinois residents,” Rodriguez said.
Fairview Heights resident Veronica Berger said she thinks “it’s great” that Planned Parenthood will have a new, larger clinic in her town. She visited the existing facility when she didn’t have health insurance and needed services like check-ups and a birth control prescription.
“It’s about the private care of a woman and her needs,” Berger said.
Crystal Thomas of the Kansas City Star contributed information for this story. The Star and Belleville News-Democrat are sister publications, owned by McClatchy.