By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — Choices Medical Clinic has served a “large handful” of women since opening June 1 and plans to begin an advertising campaign later this month, said Rachel Owen, executive director.
The donation-funded, licensed medical clinic offers women pregnancy and STD testing; counseling; prenatal care; ultrasounds; education on abstinence and abortion and, if clients desire, Christianity; and referrals to social services and adoption agencies. Owen said most women who’ve come to the downtown Iowa City facility have been ages 15-23 and sought pregnancy testing, STD testing and prenatal care including ultrasounds, though close to half have been “abortion-minded.”
All pregnant clients may receive counseling from trained volunteers who Owen said explore fears the women may have about carrying their babies to term.
“We are pro-life, but at the same time, we are really here to meet the woman’s needs. She’s the only one who can make that choice to save her baby.” Clinic volunteers and staffers must show a client her ability to choose adoption or motherhood. “It’s our job to support her in whichever decision that is.”
Clients seeking material assistance have received, for example, help applying for hawk-i health insurance for children and gift certificates to Hy-Vee Food Store. Owen also hopes to launch New Beginnings in area churches to provide women with baby-care supplies, mentorship and education on parenting.
But some are unconvinced the clinic is doing good work. Dozens of protestors reportedly showed up outside the building during an open house in March, accusing the facility of being a “fake medical clinic” and misleading women.
Lisa Van Hofwegen, the clinic’s volunteer medical director, is a licensed physician. Informed Choice of Iowa Corporation, which oversees the clinic, says a registered diagnostic medical sonographer works in a paid position there, and a registered nurse, Shirley Heefner, and radiologist, Doug Boatman, volunteer there.
Owen rejects the idea that the clinic misleads women. “We fully inform on all the options,” she said. “If people think we don’t, they need to come in and sit down.”
Staffers and volunteers stress the risks and side effects of abortion and the procedure’s effect on the fetus. Clients are not referred to abortion providers.
Owen also said Choices Medical Clinic is motivated solely by concern for women and their babies. “We don’t make a single penny off a woman’s decision.”
Donations account for all the clinic’s funding. Owen said the facility is spending about $20,000 a month to pay staffers and cover other expenses, but is receiving $15,000 a month in donations while relying on $30,000 in savings. It hopes to double its donations to fund advertisements, hire another nurse and begin an abstinence-education campaign. At some point, the clinic also hopes to create a perinatal hospice program to support mothers who choose to deliver babies who’ve received fatal diagnoses.
Knights of Columbus have been among major supporters of the clinic. The Supreme Council and Iowa State Council gave $41,000 for a 4D ultrasound, and Council No. 14385 of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City has raised more than $1,800 since January through a monthly can collection, KCans4LIFE. Members of the St. Wenceslaus council also volunteered thousands of dollars worth of labor and materials to help build the clinic, and now volunteer for grounds upkeep, said Richard Anderson, Grand Knight.
Supporting the clinic is “a vital piece of the puzzle to help in the pro-life effort right here in our own backyards,” he said. “…The can collection not only provided funds for the clinic but is a visible sign to the community that working to save those who cannot save themselves is what we are called to do in our Catholic faith.”
Choices Medical Clinic is open at 821 S. Gilbert St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. An open house is scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 3. Call (319) 337-0575 or visit www.informedchoiceia.org for more information. To learn more about KCans4LIFE or start a similar project, visit www.stwenc-ic.com/kc/cans4life.htm.