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Dozens gather Sunday to support Planned Parenthood Health Center recovery after arson fire

Planned Parenthood Protest.jpg
Collin Schopp
Demonstrators gather outside the Planned Parenthood on Knoxville Avenue Sunday morning to show their support in the aftermath of an arson fire at the health center.

Around 80 people gathered outside of the Planned Parenthood Health Center on Knoxville Avenue Sunday afternoon, one week after police say an arsonist started a fire with a so-called incendiary device and caused more than $100,000 in damages, closing the center for at least a month.

Demonstrators carried signs with slogans like “Terrorism doesn’t play in Peoria”, “Fund Planned Parenthood,” and “Protect our healthcare facilities.”

A number of drivers passing the protest honked their horns or gave a thumbs up of support out their windows, though others yelled at protestors, made obscene gestures or told them to "go home." Near the start of the demonstration, one passenger in a passing car threw a liquid out of their window onto the crowd on the sidewalk.

Vivian Taylor, a Peoria resident who created the Stand With Planned Parenthood event on Facebook, says her reasons are straightforward.

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Collin Schopp
Demonstrators line Knoxville Avenue Sunday morning outside of the Planned Parenthood Health Center.

“It’s very important we protect our community clinics. And that’s why we’re here,” she said. “Anyone that opposes…a chilling effect act of any kind, especially health care, should definitely be stood against by the entire community together.”

Taylor encouraged anyone who couldn’t attend the protest but wanted to show support to consider donating to Planned Parenthood of Illinois to help rebuild the center.

“Pick a side to be on, are you for this or are you against it?” she said. “Terrorism does not play in Peoria.”

Reasons from other demonstrators for braving the cold to show their support ranged from support for access to abortion, support for transgender rights and the gender affirming care offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood, and simply to stand in opposition to acts of violence like the burning of the center. The demonstration also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Also attending the demonstration was Peoria resident and at-large city council member candidate Lawrence Maushard. He says he grew up just a few blocks from the location of the Planned Parenthood Center.

“When this happens in my neighborhood, I take it personally,” he said. “And for all the women, for all the girls who need Planned Parenthood, we will always stand with them.”

Some representatives of Planned Parenthood of Illinois were also at the demonstration. Kelley Theisen is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion specialist with the organization.

“We are just very thrilled and overwhelmed with, like, the community support,” they said.

Theisen says it was devastating, sad and tragic to hear the news of the arson at the Peoria health center. They point out the damage goes beyond the structure. Patients in Peoria came to the clinic for family planning, STI testing and treatment, cancer screening and gender affirming care.

“That's just robbing the community of, like, the reproductive health care that they want and deserve to have here,” they said “So it is just a devastating thing. But like I said, we're working really quickly to get it reopened as fast as possible.”

Planned Parenthood Protest 3.jpg
Collin Schopp
Signs carried by those in support of Planned Parenthood range from support for transgender rights and gender affirming care, to STI treatment access, to abortion access, to statements against violent acts like the arson at the health center.

Theisen says Planned Parenthood is helping get all patients rescheduled and transported for appointments at the facility of their choice.

There have been no arrests linked to the arson fire yet, but Peoria Police believe a white pickup truck with a red driver’s side door caught on security camera footage is related to the case.

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.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.