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To Counter Missouri's Attacks on Abortion Care, Planned Parenthood Opens 'Mega-Clinic' in Neighboring Illinois

The new facility comes as Missouri's sole remaining abortion provider remains mired in a legal battle to remain open.

Pro-choice supporters and staff of Planned Parenthood hold a rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, Missouri, May 31, 2019

Pro-choice supporters and staff of Planned Parenthood hold a rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, Missouri, May 31, 2019, the last location in the state performing abortions, after a U.S. court announced the clinic could continue operating. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

After years of attacks on reproductive rights in Missouri, Planned Parenthood announced Wednesday the opening of a new, large facility in neighboring Illinois—construction of which was done in secret to avoid protests.

The facility is "an 18,000-square-foot mega-clinic" in Fairview Heights, Illinois, CBS reported. It is less than 20 miles from the Planned Parenthood center in St. Louis; Missouri's only remaining abortion clinic, which the state is fighting to close.

"Since August 2018, Planned Parenthood has used a shell company to construct the facility," CBS reported. From the news outlet:

Other Planned Parenthood projects had run into problems once the public realized the construction was for an abortion provider. In one instance, a communications company had refused to install telephone and data lines; in another, a cabinet maker never delivered an order, [Colleen] McNicholas [the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri] said. In Birmingham, Alabama, protestors targeted Planned Parenthood's suppliers, flooding their social media accounts with fake negative reviews.

The new center will take the place of Planned Parenthood's current facility in Fairview Heights, according to St. Louis's Fox2. It is set to take patients later this month, and will be able to handle 11,000 patients annually.

"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 of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri in a statement. "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."

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While Illinois has moved to ensure that abortion access is a "fundamental right," Missouri residents have seen the opposite, prompting many women to cross the state line to obtain needed services.

As the Guttmacher Institute notes, Missouri has adopted legislation that would ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, banned abortion at eight weeks, banned abortion of a fetus that has or may have Down syndrome, and banned the procedure on the basis of race or predicted sex. While a court in August temporarily blocked the eight-week ban, the other restrictions, as well as an in-person informed consent process and a mandatory 72-hour waiting period, are in place. 

Missouri did not want to renew the license for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility to operate, but the center got a temporary reprieve in May when a judge ruled that it could continue operating. But again, it's the state's sole abortion-proving facility.

Jessica Herbert, a provider at the Planned Parenthood facility in Belleville, Illinois, two miles from the new center, told CBS that her facility has seen a 300 percent increase in the number of patients since 2016, pushing the center beyond capacity and forcing patients to confront wait times that may render certain procedures inaccessible. 

That underscores the need for patient care at the new Fairview Heights location.

"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," said McNicholas, "patients need better access, so we wanted to get it open as quickly as we could." 

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