ABORTION INDUSTRY IN MELBOURNE, FLORIDA
RANEY V AWARE WOMAN
DOCKET / CHRONOLOGICAL FILE
FLORIDA TODAY, 11/12/98, Abortion clinic lawsuits could set precedent
FLORIDA TODAY, Thursday, November 12, 1998
Abortion clinic lawsuits could set precedent
By Susan Decker, FLORIDA TODAY
MELBOURNE -- Each time a car drives into the Aware Woman Center, someone is there to take note.
License plate numbers are written down, and from there the watchers get names and addresses to send anti-abortion letters to the vehicles' owners, or to identify the doctors who perform the abortions and convince them to stop.
That scrutiny forms the core of the latest legal battle between the U.S. 1 clinic and its foes, who own the house across the street and use it for a base of protests and surveillance.
Meredith T. Raney, Jr., a prime mover in the anti-abortion crusade in Brevard County since 1989, said in an interview in June that he has been recording the comings and goings of people for so long, it has become a "habit."
Clinic founder Patricia Baird-Windle calls it illegal and wants a federal judge to order Raney, his group, Christians for Life, and his colleagues to stop the practice. His colleagues, the so-called "scribes," including newly re-elected Melbourne Councilwoman Cheryl Palmer, write down the plate numbers.
The request is contained in a countersuit Baird-Windle and the clinic filed recently in answer to a suit Raney filed a year ago. In Raney's suit, he claims he is a re productive health counselor who is protected by a federal law that grants access to abortion clinics.
It has become a battle between Baird-Windle and Raney, who have been on opposite sides of the abortion issue and a red line in front of the clinic since 1989. In some ways, it has become a war of monetary attrition, with each claiming the battles have affected their pocketbooks.
"It would not surprise me if there are meetings where people sit around and say we'll make their lives so miserable, they'll go away," said Jim Henderson, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., and former abortion pro-tester who has represented pro-life activists since 1976.
The latest legal battles have the potential to break new ground in the abortion war. Raney's suit is only the second time pro-life activists have claimed protection under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which many say was designed to protect women entering clinics, Henderson said.
Baird-Windle's countersuit is the first to use a federal law designed to stop the release of information from vehicle registrations, according to her lawyer, Roy Lucas of Melbourne. It also is the first time a clinic has tried to get compensation for unlawful intimidation from the homeowner's insurance policies, claiming pro-life. activists hide assets so they do not have to pay judgments imposed against them.
"I feel like relief is in sight for me and for the community," Baird-Windle said. "A hideous weight that has been around our shoulders will be lifted by the law."
The countersuit, which must be accepted by U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Fawsett before it can be. heard, also names Compuserve and its owner, America On line, and TML Information Services Inc. for releasing the vehicle registration information. By accessing the motor vehicle offices, the companies pass on information to companies checking the driving backgrounds of customers.
Deborah Jager of TML said each client -- usually rental and insurance companies -- sign affidavits saying they will follow the Driver's Privacy Protection Act and use the information for legitimate business reasons.
"Harassing letters are not in compliance with the DPPA and not a business use," Jager said, adding that any account using TML for such purposes will be shut down.
The clinic contends that Raney and the 15 others named have intimidated everyone from the gardener and repairmen to patients and staff members by trying to get personal information about them.
"Raney compiles this information in part for an imagined day of reckoning when all abortion doctors, patients and accessories will face their war crimes holocaust trials under a new fundamentalist theocracy," the suit charges.
Fourteen log books with the plate numbers of everyone who has ever gone to the clinic were included in information Raney presented to the clinic's lawyers as part of the federal suit. The names and addresses of the vehicles' owners were next to the numbers, Baird-Windie said.
Raney and his lawyer, Chris Sapp of Lehigh Acres, said they could not comment on the counter-suit because it still has not been accepted by the judge. Palmer also declined comment. No date has been set on the case.
Lucas, an abortion-rights lawyer for three decades and a key lawyer in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion, contends it is a serious challenge to the pro-life movement and its tactics.
"Realistically, I wouldn't be surprised if a jury awarded $15 million (in damages)," he said. "Juries are fed up with this wacko stuff."
In addition to Raney and Palmer, named in the countersuit were William Lestourgeon, Allen Lestourgeon, John C. "Jay" Rogers, Mark Steven Hall, Patricia McEwen, Christine Jagos, Dolly Edwards, Allen Munroe, Norma Munroe, Cecelia Stanback, Pat Pinkston, Nancy Lally, Luther Laite and Anne Blackburn.
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