With its sole clinic for abortions in Missouri facing a restrictive new state law, Planned Parenthood announced Wednesday it will expand across the border in Illinois with a new 18,000-square-foot facility.
The new building, which cost about $7 million, will replace an existing “tiny storefront along a strip mall” in Fairview Heights, Ill., that offered only medication abortions, according to Jesse Lawder, spokesman for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
Beginning mid-October, the new facility will offer medication and surgical abortions, along with family planning services, Lawder said. While the old clinic saw about 5,000 patients in the last year, Planned Parenthood is hoping the new clinic will double its capacity to serve about 11,000 patients, he added.
Part of the urgency to open the clinic came as more Missouri patients crossed the Mississippi River to access abortion care, Lawder said.
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 8 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.
The strain and protracted wait times in its Fairview Heights clinic emphasized the need for more abortion providers in Southern Illinois, of which there are few, Lawder said.
“In a sense (the state of Missouri) forced us to have to do this,” Lawder said. “They have forced us to have more patients in Illinois because of the medically unnecessary requirements.”
The clinic expects to see patients from neighboring states of Arkansas, Kentucky and Indiana, where lawmakers have also pushed regulations that make it challenging to provide or receive an abortion.
“When you are looking at region where the access to care is dwindling and you have the opportunity to provide high quality care for people, and to provide care without judgment, to provide it safely...it’s an important investment to make right now,” Lawder said.
The facility was built through a shell company to avoid construction delays that providers in other states have encountered due to protesters or reluctant suppliers.
“Given the urgency of the need in our community we wanted to make sure we could complete it as expeditiously as possible,” Lawder said.
Lawder emphasized that Planned Parenthood will continue to fight to keep its St. Louis clinic and against Missouri regulations.
“The lights were on today and they will be on tomorrow,” Lawder said.
This story will be updated.