Many supporters wore pink shirts and held signs saying “I stand with Planned Parenthood.” And at the end of the rally calling for abortion rights to be protected, they cut a pink ribbon.
A week-and-a-half after abortion opponents rallied outside of the new clinic, Planned Parenthood and abortion rights supporters held their own rally and ribbon-cutting on Monday to celebrate the new 18,000-square-foot facility in Fairview Heights.
The facility formally opens on Wednesday.
Planned Parenthood had built the facility in secret in order to avoid having protesters outside and to avoid project delays. The agency even used an LLC to hide its identity when applying for building permits from the city of Fairview Heights.
The facility, constructed in an existing but previously vacant medical building, will provide surgical and medication abortions, family planning services, annual exams, sexually transmitted infection testing and HIV prevention, most of which are being carried over from its previous metro-east location down the road.
April Mickens Jolly, the vice president for patient services for Planned Parenthood, said the health center would offer “comprehensive, medically accurate and age appropriate” sex education and would partner with other organizations in the region.
“The health and well being of our communities and our patients, that is at the center of everything Planned Parenthood does,” Mickens Jolly said.
The property is surrounded by a black iron fence, and there are no sidewalks. However, there is a grassy area that flows into drainage ditch.
This location replaces the existing Planned Parenthood in a strip mall at the intersection of Illinois 159 and Frank Scott Parkway. The location was much smaller than the new facility, and did not offer surgical abortions. Parking also was limited at the strip mall, and there are public sidewalks.
Anti-abortion demonstrators who are part of 40 Days for Life have been standing outside of the soon-to-be previous Planned Parenthood location for several weeks.
Not everyone celebrated the opening of the new facility. On Oct. 9, anti-abortion demonstrators had a rally outside of the Planned Parenthood, calling for it to not be allowed to open.
Prior to Monday’s rally, Small Victories, an anti-abortion group, stood outside saying Planned Parenthood’s true motivation is just to perform abortions and not other procedures in women’s healthcare.
During the rally, anti-abortion demonstrators sang “Amazing Grace” and afterwards some shouted “Get out of our town!”
One demonstrator holding a sign that said “abortion is a fresh wound” with the work ‘start’ crossed out and a broken heart drawn, tried to stand inside the fence during the rally. She was escorted out by security.
Mary Maschmeier, the founder of Defenders of the Unborn in the St. Louis area, was among the many counter-demonstrators standing outside. She said her organization provides financial care and medical care, even after the baby is born.
She said despite Planned Parenthood’s legal troubles in Missouri, she is sad they were able to expand in Illinois.
“That part of it is what saddens me, because there are no restrictions in Illinois. You come in one day, kill your baby and go home and live the rest of your life in regret,” Maschmeier said.
The Coalition for Life St. Louis announced Monday it plans to expand its sidewalk counseling to Fairview Heights this week.
“These are our neighbors, our sisters, and our daughters,” said Executive Director Brian Westbrook. “They deserve real care and real compassion. We refuse to stand idly by while Planned Parenthood takes advantage of their pain.”
‘Planned Parenthood is not going to give up’
Laurie Allender, of Swansea, is a registered nurse who has worked in labor and delivery, surgery and with with disabled children, and abused children. She spoke at the rally in support of Planned Parenthood.
“How many of those children who were abused wouldn’t have been abused if those people were able to get the services that Planned Parenthood offers?” Allender said. “I myself used Planned Parenthood when I was first out of nursing school because they were accessible to somebody who didn’t have a lot of money yet, and I love the services that they gave. They were always friendly and supportive, no matter what you wanted to do.
“I say to all those people who want to take away our rights to control our bodies, we’re not giving up. Planned Parenthood is not going to give up, I’m not going to give up, my family is not going to give up,” Allender said. “We’re going to be here to support those people who need services, whatever services they need. Whether they need to come in to get their pap smear, whether they need birth control, whether they need HIV testing. It doesn’t matter. All that service here for whoever needs it. I don’t want that to end.”
Legal and legislative battles
This new clinic opens as abortion access is being restricted in Missouri, but expanded in Illinois. Missouri’s only licensed abortion provider, the Planned Parenthood location on Forest Park Avenue in St. Louis, will continue providing surgical abortions. That facility is involved in a battle over whether it can keep its license.
Planned Parenthood also is 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.
Illinois has worked to be more progressive when it comes to abortion. Earlier this year, the general assembly passed, and the governor signed, the Reproductive Health Act, which makes abortion a fundamental right in the state.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, was the lead legislator in the state House of Representatives on the RHA.
“I wanted to protect the laws of the state of Illinois, and if other states care less about women in their states, then yes, by all means. If they need us, we’re here,” Cassidy said. “But this is about protecting the people of the state of Illinois.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker lauded the opening of the new Planned Parenthood with a statement on Twitter.
“From cancer screenings to STI testing to reproductive heath care, Planned Parenthood is vital health care provider for countless Illinoisans and residents of neighboring states. I’m proud that you’re growing in our state,” Pritzker said.