Associated Press, 2/12/98 — 4:14 AM
MELBOURNE, Fla. (AP) – A painted red line keeps anti-abortion activists away from the Aware Woman Center for Choice. A blue line across the street shows where a 36-foot buffer zone was once enforced.
The lines symbolize the political reality in Melbourne, long one of the nation’s hot spots for anti-abortion activity. Protesters have trained here, and the mayor recently called for a month of prayer and fasting to end abortions.
The clinic simply stepped up security and went on providing abortions. But even as the search goes on for suspects in the first fatal bombing at a U.S. clinic, last month in Birmingham, Ala., protesters are assaulting the center here with something else – bureaucratic red tape.
Abortion providers now must spend time fending off paperwork.
“This is more of that type of mental warfare that clinics have to deal with on a daily basis,’‘ said Susan Hill, president of the National Women’s Health Organization in Raleigh, N.C., which operates eight clinics nationwide, though not the Aware Woman Center.
“The tactic they have is to do something every day to divert you, just to make sure you have too much to do.”
The tactic has been used against clinics in Fargo, N.D., and Jackson, Miss.
Across the street from the Melbourne clinic is a home purchased four years ago by anti-abortion activist William LeStourgeon.
On Jan. 31, LeStourgeon saw the clinic’s surgeon, Dr. William Egherman, leaving with what appeared to be a patient and two employees, heading to a hospital emergency room. Two days later, LeStourgeon and another activist, Meredith Raney, filed a complaint against Egherman with the state agency that regulates doctors.
“This doctor is incompetent and needs to be stopped,” it said.
It was the fourth complaint in a year that abortion opponents had filed against Egherman with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. In one, the activists allege that a patient was left with a perforated uterus.
“I would like to see them discipline Dr. Egherman for whatever is appropriate for the kind of multiple problems they’re having,” Raney said. “They’re not really concerned with the safety of women.’‘
But regulators say Egherman, who has been licensed to practice in Florida since 1990, has a flawless record.
Each complaint filed with the agency ties up clinic employees in paperwork and takes them anywhere from 20 to 100 hours to respond, said Patricia Baird-Windle, the clinic’s co-owner. State investigations take six months.
Mrs. Windle said sometimes a physician will err on the side of caution and ask that a patient be observed in a hospital. The clinic performsabout 1,200 abortions a year.
Egherman, who did not return calls to his Cincinnati home, performs abortions here two days each week. The clinic is unable to hire a local doctor because of the anti-abortion fervor in the community. Melbourne, a community of 67,000 people about 40 miles southeast of Orlando, is where buffer zones for abortion clinics were created. Activists once gave an ultrasound demonstration at a City Council meeting.
In past years, abortion opponents reported the clinic to the local zoning board for sign violations and for letting able-bodied people park cars in spaces for the handicapped. They also filed complaints, later disproved, about the illegal disposal of fetal tissue.
“They throw a lot of stuff against the wall to see what will stick,’‘ Mrs. Windle said.