Between an iron fence and temporary barricades while holding signs that said “Planned Parenthood hurts women,” “Stop Abortion Now” and “Shut them down,” demonstrators called on Fairview Heights to keep the future Planned Parenthood clinic from opening.
The narrow stretch of public right of away next to a drainage ditch did not deter the crowd of hundreds of people who rallied Wednesday outside the new Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights that will open later this month.
The clinic will offer surgical and medication abortions, as well as family planning services, annual exams, sexually transmitted infection testing and HIV prevention.
It was built in secret in order to keep protesters away and to keep the project on schedule.
The 18,000-square-foot facility, has been called a “mega abortion clinic” by abortion rights opponents. However, Planned Parenthood’s facility in St. Louis is 40,000 square feet spread over three floors.
The Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City is 15,000 square feet.
As the rally continued, a worker behind the iron fence worked to stripe the parking lot for the facility.
Those in attendance said Planned Parenthood only performed abortions to make money.
Planned Parenthood did not immediately comment on the rally.
Larry and Bonnie Kaffer, of Belleville, and Kathleen Wilson, of Swansea, came to the event and have been part of the 40 Days of Life demonstrations.
“Life begins at conception and all life is precious, and in today’s world, they don’t regard life like they should,” said Wilson, who added that the clinic “is an embarrassment for our community, for our state.”
Construction of the clinic took place 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 is also fighting Missouri in court over its new law to criminalize abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction pausing the abortion ban while it is litigated.
“This facility behind us is not a victory for Planned Parenthood, it is a sign of desperation,” said Mary Kate Knorr, the executive director of Illinois Right to Life.
Kathy Lensoff, the president and CEO of Mosaic Pregnancy and Health Centers, announced during the rally that it would move its satellite office to Fairview Heights from Belleville.
“We’re going to be right down the street, here in Fairview Heights,” Lensoff said.
Elected officials attend
Among those in attendance were state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro.
“It’s not easy to be pro-life in the legislature,” Bourne said. “This past session they passed the RHA, and they said they were passing that in case Roe v. Wade is overturned. They said it was just cleaning up some language.
“Here’s what it actually did. ... They wanted Illinois to be an abortion destination in the Midwest. They wanted women to come from other states here, to not only get abortions that are legal in other states but they expanded late-term abortions so they are now legal in Illinois and they could be performed here. What they wanted in the general assembly was for taxpayers like us to have to pay for abortions. This is the consequences of elections.”
The anti-abortion activists called on Fairview Heights officials to stop the clinic from opening.
However, the previously vacant facility was built as a medical office and already was zoned as one, leaving no avenues for the city to stop construction.
Fairview Heights Alderman Ryan Vickers stood across the street from the rally as the sun set over the metro east. He reiterated that Planned Parenthood didn’t have to come to the city council for any permission.
“I think this is a thing a lot of people don’t get the process on,” Vickers said. “This type of facility already zoned for businesses, like a dentist office or any type of medical, you wouldn’t have to get any additional permits to start working on that building, if you’re already that type of business.”
Planned Parenthood has been in the city since the 1990s and Vickers said he doesn’t think they are bad neighbors.
“I don’t think this is bad for the city. I think this is an interesting issue that doesn’t typically touch city council type of issues,” Vickers said.
College students speak out
Madison Reynolds is a nursing student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and president of SIUE Students for Life. She said her organization has a Pregnant on Campus initiative to help pregnant and parenting students while attending school.
“Women my age are vulnerable to abortion. Many people claim they are for women’s choice, but the unfortunate thing is many women going in to have an abortion feel like they had no choice,” Reynolds said. “Maybe they had unsupportive parents or a partner, and for college women in particular, maybe they felt like they did not have the support to raise a child and go to school.
“Women don’t need to be told they can’t; instead, women need to be showered with support and love and be told they can.”
Joseph Bustos is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
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