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Peoria Planned Parenthood clinic will be closed for months after Sunday's arson fire

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Joe Deacon
/
WCBU
The Peoria Planned Parenthood clinic as of Wednesday morning. Several windows were boarded up, and a fence was erected in front of the building.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Peoria is expected to remain closed for months after a so-called incendiary device was thrown through a window late Sunday night.

Peoria Fire Department battalion chief Jeff Hascall said fire and smoke was showing from one of the front windows of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 2709 N. Knoxville Ave. when crews responded to a call there.

Police haven't made any arrests yet, but they believe a white pickup truck with a red driver's side door captured on security camera footage is linked to the case.

Nobody was in the building when the fire started, but one firefighter suffered minor injuries in the blaze and was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali said the arsonist was clearly trying to send a message, but violence isn't the right way to express dissent.

"We have to be tough in cases like this. We have to have zero tolerance for these types of violent acts," Ali said.

During a stop in Normal on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he's "terrified" by what he describes as a nationwide rise in politically-motivated violence.

"This violence in American political life has to be condemned by both sides," Durbin said. "I don't care whether it comes from the right or the left, it's absolutely unacceptable, whether it's in New Mexico or Peoria or anywhere."

In a statement, Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO Jennifer Welch said acts of vandalism are on the rise across the country, and Illinois has become a target as "extreme and divisive" rhetoric increases. Illinois has the most expansive abortion rights laws in the Midwest. It has become an oasis for abortions as neighboring states pass bans or new restrictions in the wake of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent.

The Peoria health center doesn't offer in-clinic abortions, but it does provide abortion pills and other sexual health services, including sexually-transmitted infection testing and treatment, pregnancy tests, and transgender hormone therapy. Peoria County has among the highest STI rates in the state, with a disproportionately heavy impact on Black Peorians living in the city's poorest ZIP codes.

Peoria 2nd District city councilman Chuck Grayeb said the North Florence neighborhood is "resilient" in the face of the arson over the weekend. He called the act "cowardly and horrific."

Damages to the Peoria clinic are estimated at $150,000. A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said patients are being referred to other clinics or scheduled for telehealth appointments. Employees will also be relocated to other clinics.

The nearest Planned Parenthood clinic is in Bloomington, about 40 miles from Peoria. The nearest Planned Parenthood facilities offering in-clinic abortions are in Champaign and Springfield. Planned Parenthood will assist patients with transportation to other facilities.

Peoria Police Department spokeswoman Semone Roth said there was no additional suspect information available as of Wednesday morning. She would only confirm an "incendiary device" was thrown into the building.

The FBI office in Springfield confirmed Wednesday that agents are assisting the Peoria Police Department with the investigation.

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Peoria Police Department
A video camera still capturing the suspect's vehicle in the Sunday arson fire at Planned Parenthood. Police haven't yet made any arrests in the case.

This isn't the first time a Peoria women's clinic has been the target of arson. In 2021, the Women's Care Center was gutted in an intentionally-set blaze. That pregnancy resource center is associated with the Catholic Church and provides an anti-abortion rights perspective. The center relocated to a new building after the fire. It was formerly located next door to the Whole Women's Health abortion clinic, which closed in 2019.

Anyone with information on the arson is asked to call Peoria Police Det. Brian Terry at (309) 494-8390, call CrimeStoppers anonymously at (309) 494-8000, or contact the tip411 line anonymously.

WGLT's Eric Stock contributed to this report.

This story will be updated.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.
Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.
Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.