New Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic In Fairview Heights Was Built In Secret | St. Louis Public Radio

New Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic In Fairview Heights Was Built In Secret

Oct 2, 2019

Planned Parenthood is taking a step to increase access to abortions in the metro-east and the region with a new state-of-the-art center 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. It 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 have been underway for more than a year. It was built in secret to avoid delays, Planned Parenthood has acknowledged.

Planned Parenthood announced a new mega center aimed to increase abortion access in Southern Illinois. It will open later this month.
Credit Planned Parenthood

City officials, including Mayor Mark Kupsky and members of the City Council, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Economic Development Director Paul Ellis said his department wasn’t aware of the development of the new center. He said it was most likely handled by another department.

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 late October.

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.”

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said during the news conference 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.

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, all voted against the act. State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, also opposed it.

The could not be reached for comment.

Women from other states travel to the Metro East

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 Parsons signed a bill prohibiting abortions after eight weeks in Missouri. However, a judge issued a temporary stay as the facility fights to keeps its license.

The new, 18,000-square-foot Planned Parenthood facility in Fairview Heights was converted from an existing building. For more than a year, Planned Parenthood used a shell company to construct the facility, leaving no public trace that the former medical office would become one of the largest abortion clinics in the country, CBS News reported.

Colleen McNicholas, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said the facility was built in secret to avoid protesters and delays, according to CBS News.

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 the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, about 13 miles away from the new building. The state has attempted to yank the clinic’s license, though the effort is tied up in the state’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.

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.

At the same time, Illinois has been moving in the other direction, expanding access and loosening restrictions. Under new Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the Illinois Legislature passed the “Reproductive Health Act,” which established access to abortion as a fundamental right.

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 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.

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.

Protesters have been present on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood’s existing facility on Illinois 159 all week with signs reading, “Pray to end abortion.” It’s part of a planned event.

Crystal Thomas of the Kansas City Star contributed information for this story. The Star and Belleville News-Democrat are sister publications, owned by McClatchy.

The Belleville News-Democrat is a news partner with St. Louis Public Radio.

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated the parameters of Missouri's new abortion laws.