It’s been 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortions were constitutionally protected in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Eight months after that historic ruling, 12 Iowa City women established the Emma Goldman Clinic to provide reproductive services for women. The clinic, named after the early 20th century American political activist and anarchist, was the first outpatient abortion clinic in Iowa and first feminist health care center in the Midwest.
Current co-director Francine Thompson said 40 years is a major milestone for the clinic, which serves more than 2,000 people annually.
“We, as a small non-profit, local, grass roots and independent clinic, have remained viable and thriving for 40 years,” Thompson said. “When women’s clinics were initially opened after the big women’s movement in the 1960s, there were a number of clinics open across the nation. Today there are only 13 feminist health care clinics that provide abortions in the clinics.”
The Iowa City-based clinic is now at 227 N. Dubuque St. but was first housed at 715 N. Dodge St. Today it provides a variety of services, including gynecology, birth control, sexually transmitted infections screenings, abortions and transgender health. It began offering services for men in the late 1990s.
Deborah Nye, one of the clinic’s founding mothers, was a University of Iowa law school student in 1973. She was inspired to start the clinic both by her work as an abortion-referral volunteer at the UI women’s center and her own experience with an illegal abortion following an unwanted pregnancy in high school.
“It was something that really gave me a lot of pause and I thought about how difficult my life would have been if that wasn’t available for me,” the now 64-year-old said.
When local OB-GYN offices and doctors remained hesitant to perform abortions following the court’s decision, Nye said she and others decided to open their own clinic.
“The more we thought about it, the more we thought we have to do this ourselves,” said Nye, who now lives in Arizona.
Throughout its history, pro-life groups have frequently protested outside the clinic. The efforts of the pro-life movement have proved challenging, as the clinic adjusts to changing laws on the procedures, Thompson said.
Ellen Lewin, UI professor in the departments of anthropology and gender, women and sexuality studies who has studied women’s reproductive health, said before the ’60s women’s movement, women’s health was largely a hushed matter in an era where doctors were mostly male.
The movement, she said, helped inform women about their bodies and make better-informed health decisions.
“We’ve stood tall and remained a strong and thriving organization in the community and our expectation is that we’ll be here for another 40 years delivering high-quality, non-judgmental reproductive health care services,” Thompson said.