CHICAGO - As Missouri clings to its last remaining abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood is opening an 18,000-square-foot clinic in southern Illinois to serve as a "regional haven for abortion access," according to a press release Wednesday.
The new facility is located in Fairview Heights, Illinois, just 13 miles from the last remaining abortion clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, one of several states that has seen recent rollbacks in abortion access.
"While we continue the fight to maintain access in Missouri, we are excited to expand our abortion services in Illinois," said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
"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 health care, no matter what," she said.
Copycat legislation: Progressives borrow strategy from anti-abortion groups
Planned Parenthood employed a shell company to construct the clinic in order to avoid drawing protesters, CBS reported. The organization faced dozens of protesters this summer in Birmingham, Alabama, where it is constructing a new clinic, according to local news outlets.
The new Illinois facility will replace Planned Parenthood's current clinic in the same area. While the organization's Reproductive Health Services department plans to continue working with patients at the nearby St. Louis health center, it plans to expand abortion services at the new clinic, according to a press release from the organization.
'Heartbeat bill': Federal judge blocks Georgia's abortion banIn addition to offering both medication and surgical abortion services, the new clinic plans to provide family planning services, including: birth control, annual exams, cancer screenings, STI testing, and HIV prevention, including PrEP.
The St. Louis center will continue offering surgical abortions.
"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," Yamelsie Rodriguez, President and CEO of PPSLRSWMO, said in the press release.
The new facility will begin seeing patients in mid-October. Planned Parenthood told CBS News that the clinic can accommodate up to 11,000 patients a year.
Illinois Right to Life, a pro-life organization, lambasted the announcement in a press release Wednesday, calling the new clinic a "money-making venture."
"The construction of this new facility was a strategic business move-certainly not a defense of women," Illinois Right to Life Executive Director Mary Kate Knor said in the release. "Let the executives of Planned Parenthood be aware that their stronghold here is temporary. We aren't going anywhere."
US abortion rate is at its lowest: Restrictive laws aren't the likely cause, study says
Planned Parenthood's announcement comes as national abortion rates fell to the lowest level since the procedure became legal in 1973.
According to a recent report from the Guttmacher Institute, the increase of state abortion restrictions in recent years does not appear to be the primary driver of declining abortion rates. Instead, much of the recent decline has occurred in states that did not adopt restrictions.
At the same time, support for legal abortion has reached its highest level in more than two decades. According to a July Washington Post-ABC News poll, 60% say abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
Missouri is among six states with a single abortion provider, along with Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Dakota and South Dakota. As of August, Missouri had lost four abortion providers since 2008 because of restrictive state laws, according to Planned Parenthood.
The St. Louis location nearly closed in June, after state officials refused to renew the facility's license to perform abortions. But a judge issued a stay just hours before the license was set to expire.
Like many other states passing "heartbeat bills," Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill last month that outlaws abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy without exceptions for cases of rape or incest. But a judge put the brakes on the law at the end of August.
In Illinois, meanwhile, lawmakers are working to safeguard abortion access.
In June, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Reproductive Health Act, which considers a woman's access to abortion a "fundamental right." The law rescinded prohibitions on some late-term abortions, as well as criminal penalties for doctors performing abortions.
Despite its abortion protections, Illinois was not among the states with the highest abortion rates in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute report.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Illinois Planned Parenthood mega-clinic 'haven' for abortion access