By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) – Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood is set to open a large facility in western Illinois this month that will provide abortion access for women in Missouri as officials there aim to shutter the state’s sole abortion clinic, the organization said on Wednesday.
Planned Parenthood has been secretly building the 18,000-square-foot clinic in Fairview Heights since August 2018, using shell companies to avoid attention and protests, CBS first reported.
The new healthcare center will provide abortion and other health services to women in western Illinois and eastern Missouri, and is located just 13 miles from Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic. Missouri has declined to renew that facility’s license, citing its failure to meet state health department standards.
“While we continue the fight to maintain access in Missouri, we are excited to expand our abortion services in Illinois,” Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood’s southwest regional chapter, said in a statement. “The new health center is a testament to the needs of the greater bi-state region and our commitment to provide, protect and expand access to healthcare, no matter what.”
A federal judge has allowed the Missouri clinic to stay open pending the decision of a state arbiter, who will weigh Planned Parenthood’s case against the state health department. If officials in Missouri succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious belief to declare it immoral.
Missouri is one of 12 states to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.
A U.S. federal judge in August temporarily blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency.
Illinois has moved to protect women’s right to abortion as other states have tried to overturn it. The state passed the Reproductive Health Act in June to preserve the legality of abortion even if Roe v. Wade should be overturned. It has refused funding from the Title X family planning program because of President Donald Trump’s “gag rule,” which withholds federal funds from health providers who perform abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)