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The Forerunner

One Red Line, 1/25/1998

By Editorial Staff
Published January 25, 1998

The work on the same street in a small Florida town

By: EMILY J. MINOR, Palm Beach Post (PB)

They got to her, really got to her, on Sweet Nancy Day because, after all, this day of all days was not about court injunctions or fetal viability or a woman’s right to choose. This was about free pap smears. Free breast exams.

This was about saving women from cancer in the name of her dear, dead friend, Sweet Nancy.

So she did something that day, something she only sometimes does. She walked out of the clinic, marched toward those staring, reproachful eyes, crossed the thin red line that’s supposed to keep them at bay by court order and asked them, right up front.

Why today?

“Because,” came the protester’s answer. “Because they all have daughters.”

If today they could reach one of these women, they might then reach one of their daughters and that might – just might – save a baby’s life.

As the owner of an abortion clinic in the small city of Melbourne for 21 years, Patricia Baird Windle is, on the liberal hand, a godsend. She counsels and pats shoulders. She jokes and wipes tears. Want to know something about most of Windle’s customers? These are not feminists and lesbians and Big Important Educated People. Indeed, most of these women have never been to a protest or purchased a NOW membership.

Most of these women have never thought much about abortion. Until they needed one.

But, on the other conservative hand, there is the other Windle, the side the protesters watch each day from across the street. From here, she is the monster, the witch. From here, she is Patricia Baird Windle, baby killer.

Windle, 63, has fought this long, roller-coaster battle for so many years, you must excuse her if she is often – simply put – a wreck. Pardon her if she rambles and rants and sounds a wee bit paranoid. But there’s the little matter of a dead doctor in Pensacola in 1993 and the protesters who bought the house across the street (so they could conveniently, and legally, spy on her clinic) and the many, many occasions on which her household trash has turned up missing long before the garbage man arrived at the crack of dawn.

There are the letters: We are watching your granddaughter.

And the phone calls: We are watching you.

And the prayers. Always, always, the prayers. Jesus loves you even though you kill babies.

And the inconveniences, oh my goodness! There used to be an awesome view of the water from the concrete block clinic she has walked into most mornings for two decades. But that disappeared when the metal shutters went up, the ones that are supposed to protect her and the clinic workers if a bomb goes off. She’s accustomed to the protesters’ screams, the ones the patients can sometimes hear as they lie on the prep table. And it’s second nature to watch her back, check the bushes and the shadowy spaces between cars when she walks into a parking lot after dark. She’s had that creepy, “I’m being watched” feeling too many times to count.

Sometimes, there are moments when she just wants to throw her hands up, walk away and retire to her beloved New York City. But then a patient offers an endearing thank you. Or a friend calls with good news for the movement. Or her wonderful family says just the right thing at just the right time.

But rarely do they say what they are thinking: “It’s hard not to worry about her because it’s quite clear she’s a target,” says Windle’s daughter, Roni, 41. “And at the same time, she’s done such incredible things.

“And if they do do something to her, she will have lived this incredible life having done these incredible things.”

Meet Mr. Meredith Raney, the man who revels in Ms. Windle’s fears and failures. He is the tall, quiet, devoted man who for 10 years has happily fought to put Baby Killer Patricia Baird Windle out of business. Raney has acquaintances with recognizable names: Norma McCorvey, the Roe in Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Flip Benham and Randall Terry – both bigwigs in the national Operation Rescue movement know Raney, too.

While Raney, 51, spends many, many days outside Windle’s peach and gray clinic, he also spends countless hours at his home computer. E-mail and the Internet have forever changed Meredith Raney’s life, as well as the makeup of the anti-abortion movement.

You want to know how to get under the skin of an abortion clinic owner? There’s a Web site out there to lead you from A to Z. You wanna make a stink bomb? Dial right in. Before all this computer business, Raney had to use something called the loud-mouth machine, a clunky, aging contraption that would take all day to automatically dial phone number after phone number after phone number to leave a message. And if there was no answer, or no machine, well, then the news of the day just didn’t get out.

But today, with the touch of a few buttons, Meredith Raney and the soldiers of his movement can broadcast to the troops. A protest. A prayer meeting.

A clandestine night operation?

“I would no more go through somebody’s trash than Patricia Windle would kill somebody’s unborn baby,” Raney says.

While some of Raney’s work is done in the national spotlight (he was in Washington, D.C., last week for the 25th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision), the day-to-day grind is fought outside Windle’s clinic, on a quiet, residential street on the outskirts of Melbourne. This is where Raney and his friends, 20 or so, do their job. Many of them, including Raney, have no other employment. Windle believes that Operation Rescue gives them living money, something the movement workers deny.

Their chores are repetitive and the audience is often hostile, but day after day after day they report for work. They write down the license numbers of anyone pulling into the clinic lot, then get their addresses from state records.

“Even the bottled water man gets an earful,” says Raney.

They roll the baby doll and stroller to its proper place on the sidewalk. “30,000 children killed here,” the attached placard reads.

They pass out literature to anyone who will stop.

They sometimes holler. They sometimes drop to their knees in silent prayer.

And they spend hour after hour after hour inside the little rundown house across the house from Aware Woman Center for Choice, the house the anti-abortion movement bought five years ago for $47,000 so it could monitor, quite legally, all the comings and goings at Windle’s clinic.

Melbourne – a city of 67,000 about an hour north of Fort Pierce – might be sleepy and out of the way, but as far as abortion opponents are concerned, it’s a hot property. That’s mainly because the city’s lone abortion clinic is isolated. This is no office tower with a bunch of other businesses nearby. When a woman parks in that parking lot and walks to that door, Raney’s group knows why she’s going in.

But couldn’t she be there for a pap smear? An early pregnancy checkup? To take lunch to a friend, even?

“We watch ‘em,” Raney says. “We observe how long they stay and how they walk when they come out. You can tell by the way they shuffle.”

Patricia Baird Windle’s road to feminism, and thus to the clinic on Dixie Way in Melbourne, began in 1957. Eisenhower was president. The big hit song of the decade was by Elvis, All Shook Up. And Patricia Baird was discovering for the third time just how very fertile she was.

A friend took her to a doctor, a woman, who inquired about the home life. Did she have a husband? Other children? A job?

And the young girl who grew up in Hot Springs, Ark. – the oldest daughter of a socially engaging mother and a father who worked for the railroad – blurted it out, the whole awful mess. She had a 2-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. She had a husband, all right, handsome as all get-out. But he liked to drink and was currently working off his latest indiscretion on the county chain gang. The lady doctor listened. Then she turned her back. But only for a moment.

The doctor slipped on a clean glove, turned back toward her young patient, grabbed hold of Windle’s cervix and gave it a good, solid twist and a yank.

Windle was swept with pain. And later, she was swept with something else. Complete, utter, absolute admiration for that doctor.

“What she did was a cardinal act of courage,” Windle says. “And two days later, I miscarried.”

In the following years, she met the real love of her life, a handsome Air Force soldier named Ted Windle. They married, had two children and, in 1963, were expecting their third.

But this pregnancy – as all of hers had been – was complicated by Patricia’s RH-negative blood and Ted’s RH-positive. The two are incompatible and can cause internal problems for the baby, particularly to the brain.

Doctors brought Hunter into the world seven weeks early because they wanted to get him out and flush him with fresh, uncontaminated blood. But his lungs weren’t developed enough. He lived 41 hours.

“Hunter,” says Patricia Baird Windle, “ … was the abortion I should have had.”

For nearly seven years after Hunter died, she survived in an abyss of depression, fed by the guilt of her baby son’s death. Only her handsome husband, Ted, her business partner and the man she still adores with all her heart, could pull her through. And he did.

We have children, he told her, four living, wonderful children. And slowly she crawled out of that black hole. In the early ’70s she was asked to chair a women’s health committee in Brevard County. One thing led to another and in 1976, Patricia Baird Windle and her feminist husband took out a lease for the county’s first abortion clinic. The clinic opened in 1977, less than four years after the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. Today, the family runs clinics in Melbourne and West Palm Beach.

Because of the pressures, they go through doctors like candy. Today, they use just one physician who flies in from out of town. The staff of about a half-dozen sees 1,500 patients a year for everything from pap smears to birth control counseling. Last year, they performed about 1,100 abortions at the Melbourne clinic.

Susan Hill, president of a medical group that provides abortions at rural clinics in eight states who has been a friend of the Windles for years, says the most difficult thing about being an abortion provider is that no one but the other providers understand the constant fear, the constant scrutiny.

“You can’t do anything,” Hill says. “You can’t go to the grocery store; you can’t have your hair fixed. And people always say we’re paranoid, but we have good reason.

“I think Patricia has been so personally attacked, she has reason to be paranoid. She’d be stupid not to be.”

Today, Windle’s house is a sprawling maze of madness. Faxes and phone calls and adult kids popping in and out. A friend calls to make sure she has the tickets for Saturday’s opera and Patricia Baird Windle pauses for a moment: “The arts keep me sane,” she says.

There’s the swimming pool that stretches beyond the rear glass doors, but of course she can’t remember the last time she even dipped her toe in. There’s the stylish patio furniture and the lush garden beyond, but don’t compliment her on the greenery. Gardening is her husband’s therapy, not hers.

Right now she’s working on putting together The Survey. For a while there, she didn’t think she’d be able to pull it off. But then she got some money and some sociologists agreed to join the team and finally, finally, it all got pulled together.

What she plans to do – and, oh, this is exciting – is document the acts of violence and terrorism that have been committed against the nation’s some 1,200 abortion clinics. Document the acts of violence and terrorism that have been committed against her. The bomb threats and the stink bombs and the times they’ve stolen the trash and emptied the Windle family’s gas tank at home, the one that heats their water.

If it’s all written down, it just might prove to everybody – the feds, the local police, the folks in Washington – the two things she has wholeheartedly believed for years: Operation Rescue followers are a bunch of frightening lunatics.

And she is not making any of this stuff up.

In the old days – before the dead doctors, before Operation Rescue gained national manpower and financial strength, before former NOW President Ellie Smeal came to town with a small army of her own to teach Windle’s staff everything from peaceful demonstration to surveillance tactics, before all that, Raney and Windle would talk. About court rulings and fear; children and families; choice and no choice.

Once they went to Burger King for lunch. “He paid his, I paid mine,” she insists. They’d discuss his beloved niece or her beloved granddaughter. They’d argue about lawsuits and rulings and court orders.

It’s something Windle still does from time to time.

“I’m not sure what she’s up to,” Raney said last spring, when the two went through a brief period of communication.

She is happy to explain: “I do this,” says Windle, “because if they feel they are on a first-name basis with me, if they feel that connection with me, they are, quite frankly, less likely to kill me.”

Between 1991 and 1997, five people died and 16 were injured at abortion clinic shootings in the United States and Canada. More fanatics joined the anti-abortion movement, some of them avid followers of such tutorials as Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, Abortion Buster’s Manual and the Army of God Handbook. The books outline how to stalk doctors and how to make a homemade bomb.

“It was only by accident that I was reviewing (these books) and discovered that the many tactics we have endured were actually detailed in these books,” Windle says.

It was during the early ’90s – long, tedious days that turned into years – that Windle would hole up inside her home, tap-tap-tapping away at the computer, logging it all down so that one day, someone would believe.

Through these years, Raney and his soldiers of Christ continued with the slow, steady punches. The yelling outside the clinic. The jammed phone lines. The phony pizza deliveries. The giant picture of the dead fetus.

Twenty-five years since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a woman had a right to end a pregnancy, Meredith Raney and Patricia Baird Windle still stand 36 feet and a world apart at the little clinic on Dixie Way.

“Meredith is frightening, very frightening,” she says.

“I pray for her,” he says.

CAPTION: Photos

1. Patricia Baird Windle opened Melbourne’s only abortion clinic in 1977 and has survived years of attacks from the anti-abortion movement.

2. For more than 10 years, Meredith Raney has fought to stop Patricia Baird Windle. He’s been arrested a dozen times; jailed once for 30 days.

3. Most days at the Aware Woman Center for Choice, anti-abortion protesters roll a baby stroller onto the sidewalk outside the clinic.

4. (B&W) Patricia Baird Windle’s daughter, Roni, 41, is the office administrator at the Melbourne clinic. `When I was growing up, it was hard to live with a mom with such a strong personality,’ she says. `But I always, always respected her work.’

5. (B&W) Operation Rescue followers often display graphic photos of dead fetuses at public demonstrations, like this one at Rockledge High School in Brevard County last year. At national events, they bring out a small casket with a fetus inside.

6. (B&W) Meredith Raney often videotapes activity outside Windle’s clinic. After he quit his job as an engineer at Cape Canaveral, Raney devoted his life to the anti-abortion movement. `Meredith is a very dedicated man,’ says Norma McCorvey, the `Roe’ in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case. The two have met at national protests.


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