Women’s clinic moves to Suntree, 8/15/1999

Center that provides abortions to reopen Monday

By Jeff Schweers, FLORIDA TODAY

MELBOURNE — They arrived on moving day, about 50 pro-lifers and their children, to celebrate the last day of the former Aware Woman Center for Choice on the corner of Dixie Way and U.S. 1.

They sang songs and prayed for the “innocent blood spilled” at the center, which performed abortions and provided other health services at the Dixie Way location for 17 years.

“It is a happy day,” Melbourne City Councilwoman Cheryl Palmer said. “Some of us hope we won’t have a place dedicated to child killing in our community.”

Come Monday, though, a new clinic named Woman Care of Melbourne will open in the former offices of the American Cancer Society behind Suntree Plaza, east of Wickham Road.

“This is a great day for women, because we are moving into a brighter, bigger and more accessible space,” said Tammy Sobieski, director of the Orlando based Women’s Health Center, which runs the clinic. “Our prayers have been answered, too.”

The new location, which is north of Melbourne in unincorporated Brevard County, is surrounded by private property. That could reduce protester access to the building.

The clinic — which moved in 1982 from Cocoa Beach to Melbourne — was ordered out of its Dixie Way building by the Florida Department of Transportation to make room for a U.S. 1 road-widening project.

The state bought the former Aware Woman Center property from co-owners Patricia Baird- Windle and her husband, Ted Windle, for $242,000.

Baird-Windle, 64, quit running the clinic after she was hospitalized for a heart condition in June. She is writing a book about her experiences as a leader of the abortion-rights movement.

Women’s Health Center took over the clinic July 1. Women’s Health Center also operates clinics in Orlando, West Palm Bench and Daytona Beach.

The Aware Woman clinic stirred controversy in Brevard throughout the decade. Operation Rescue moved its headquarters to the county in 1991 and operated a training center for several years during the early 1990s.

In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision upholding a 36-foot buffer zone around the clinic.

“Now I’m allowed to walk down the street,” said Bruce Cadle, the former local director of Operation Rescue named in the buffer zone lawsuit.

A minister at the First Korean Baptist Church in Melbourne, Cadle recalled how “this little town was the hub” of the national right-to-life movement, with CNN, National Public Radio and NBC’s “Today Show” interviewing him regularly.

He predicted abortion opponents will make their presence known at the new location — picketing, passing out literature and praying.

Sobieski said that although the specific 36-foot buffer zone is gone, a federal injunction stemming from a racketeering lawsuit several years ago still is in effect for every health center, regardless of the jurisdiction.

In addition, because the clinic is behind a shopping center parking lot on private property, the owners may have more stringent restrictions on protesters.

Sobieski said the new clinic will continue to provide abortions and other health services, such as pregnancy testing and family planning. It also will have a community room for education programs and seminars on birth control and other women’s issues.

“We’re down to the business of doing our work for women,” she said.

Sobieski said she is trying to focus on the work that goes on inside the clinic, trying to forget the baggage from the old clinic’s long history.

“The people outside are just that, and they have a differing view,” Sobieski said. “They can’t stop abortion, because it’s not about them. It’s about the women.”

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