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Planned Parenthood clinic marks reopening with leaders vowing to protect reproductive health care

U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Moline, speaks during a news conference marking the reopening of Planned Parenthood of Illinois' Peoria Health Center as State Sen. Dave Koehler, left, and Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO Jennifer Welch listen.
Joe Deacon
/
WCBU
U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Moline, speaks during a news conference marking the reopening of Planned Parenthood of Illinois' Peoria Health Center as State Sen. Dave Koehler, left, and Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO Jennifer Welch listen.

U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen says the reopening of Peoria’s Planned Parenthood facility has strengthened his resolve to protect access to reproductive health care.

“You have my word that I will fight to protect the rights to IVF (in-vitro fertilization), the rights to contraception, the rights to gender-affirming care, and when it's needed, the right to an abortion,” Sorensen said Tuesday during a ceremony at the clinic that was firebombed in January 2023.

“I don't know about you, but I don't think that we're close to this fight being over yet.”

The building at 2709 N. Knoxville Ave. sustained damage totaling more than $1 million in the arson, requiring 16 months of reconstruction. Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO Jennifer Welch said the location is now “stronger than ever.”

“Rebuilding the Peoria health center gave us an opportunity to reconfigure the space, and it gave us better patient access here in this location,” said Welch, adding the cost of the rebuild totaled $1.5 million. “Our new location now includes a new health education room, three exam rooms, three ultrasounds, and extended staff areas.”

Last August, Tyler Massengill, 33, of Chillicothe, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for the arson. He was also ordered to pay more than $1.4 million in restitution.

“Today, I am so proud that we are reopening services here in Central Illinois, but make no mistake, I'm still mad as hell,” Sorensen said. “Extremism and hate and violence should never, ever have happened here at home to begin with.”

Welch said the renovations at the Peoria Health Clinic included a variety of security improvements and redesigns, including smaller windows with thicker glass in the area where the firebomb was thrown.

“Before I came to Planned Parenthood of Illinois for work, I didn't even know a thing like ballistic drywall existed,” she said. “We're doing everything we can to make sure that our patients and our team members are safe.”

Welch said the improved safety features are being included in all new Planned Parenthood facilities, including one that recently opened in Carbondale, and noted that retrofitting the organization’s 18 health centers across the state is “an ongoing process.”

While the Peoria facility officially reopened in mid-May, Planned Parenthood chose to hold the ribbon-cutting after the clinic had some time to get back up to speed. The event also came less than a week before the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dodds ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

“Since that time, Illinois – that's right, right here – our state has seen the largest increase of out-of-state abortion patients in the whole country. We really are serving as a haven for the whole country,” Welch said.

“In fact, Planned Parenthood of Illinois – and we are just one of the nonprofits that are responding to this health care crisis – Planned Parenthood of Illinois has experienced a 47% increase overall in the number of abortions, in the amount of abortion care that we're providing, and we have welcomed out-of-state patients from 41 different states at our health centers across the state of Illinois.”

The Peoria clinic serves approximately 6,000 individuals each year. The site doesn't currently offer surgical abortions, but it does provide medication abortion services as well as family planning, STI treatment and gender-affirming care.

“We are really offering a full range of health care to this community, and that's why it's so important for us to reopen. That's why we didn't allow this arsonist to keep us closed,” said Welch, adding they could add more services in the years ahead.

“In addition to the security upgrades that we had to make because of what we learned from the arsonist, we also made sure that we were able to expand our care here at this health center. About a year ago, we had a clarification in the law that advanced practice nurses, or APNs, can do procedural abortions, so we have set up this facility so that sometime in the near future, we can offer procedural abortion care from this Peoria Health Center. It will be the first center in our whole state – in the Planned Parenthood of Illinois system – that is designed for APNs to provide procedural care.”

Michael Cabonargi, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the attack on the Peoria Health Clinic was a “direct assault” on access to sexual and reproductive health care.

“This clinic stands not just as a symbol of reproductive health care, but of resilience and unwavering commitment to serving this community,” Cabonargi said. “Planned Parenthood has a long and distinguished history of providing essential health care services, including cancer screenings, preventative care and, yes, safe and legal abortions. These services empower individuals to make informed choices about their bodies and their futures.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.