10/02/2019 11:38 EDT | Updated 10/04/2019 13:50 EDT

Planned Parenthood Builds New Clinic Near Missouri's Lone Abortion Provider

The massive new health care center, located in southern Illinois, is equipped to serve an estimated 11,000 patients annually.

Planned Parenthood has constructed an 18,000-square-foot clinic in southern Illinois to accommodate the influx of patients seeking reproductive health care from surrounding states with restrictive abortion laws.

The new facility, located in Fairview Heights, is less than 20 miles away from Missouri’s only licensed abortion provider. As states like Missouri continue to clamp down on women’s access to reproductive health care, more women are crossing state lines to have the procedure.

In Illinois, the percentage of abortions performed on nonresidents has more than doubled in recent years, according to CBS News. The new facility is equipped to serve an estimated 11,000 patients annually.

“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, 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 health care, no matter what,” she added.

Planned Parenthood used a shell company to build the new clinic in secret, wary of protesters and delays caused by potential contractors who might refuse to work on the project if they knew it was an abortion services provider.

Planned Parenthood doubled the number of clinic escorts, volunteers who help guide patients in and out of the building, at the St. Louis site this week in case protests break out over the new Illinois facility, CBS News reported.

Abortion is far from the only service provided by Planned Parenthood-affiliated health centers. In 2017, the procedure accounted for only 3.4% of the care provided at clinics, compared to 48.7% toward the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and 27.1% for birth control.

The new Illinois clinic will increase access to medication-induced abortion as well as surgical abortion, and will offer a range of additional reproductive health care services, including annual exams, cancer screenings, STI testing and HIV prevention.

Neighboring Missouri has some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country. In May, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed a law banning abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for victims of rape and incest. A judge ruled in August to temporarily block parts of the law pending further litigation.

What’s more, Missouri’s only abortion provider, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, is fighting to keep its license after the state declined to renew it in May. A series of preliminary injunctions has allowed it to continue operating for now.

If the St. Louis clinic were to close, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without a licensed abortion provider. Abortion rates are already at an all-time low since the procedure was legalized nationally, and health care experts say restricting access to the procedure will only put women’s safety at risk.

At least 12 states have sought to pass laws restricting abortion access this year with the hope of forcing the U.S. Supreme Court ― now tilted further to the right with Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018 ― to review the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.