Protesters behind decline, activists on both sides say
By Frank Oliveri, FLORIDA TODAY, Sunday, June 21, 1998 (front page above-the-fold)
MELBOURNE – The number of abortions performed in Brevard County has declined by almost 50 percent during the past 15 years, while the number of abortions performed elsewhere in Florida has nearly doubled.
Increases in population are behind the statewide rise in abortions performed, experts said. Explanations vary for the decline in Brevard numbers.
The Florida Department of Children and Families reported 81,692 abortions statewide in 1997. That was up from 43,377 abortions in 1983.
In Brevard, 1,221 abortions were performed last year, down from a high of 2,155 in 1983.
Activists on both sides of the abortion issue say Brevard’s decline is due to a “professional cadre” of abortion protesters. The protesters routinely photograph, approach and write letters to women who seek abortions at the county’s one abortion clinic, the Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne.
However, the abortion rate nationally also is declining. And one researcher says some abortions are not being reported.
The decrease in the number of abortions performed in Brevard doesn’t mean fewer women are deciding to abort, experts say. Instead, the women may be going to another county to have the procedure performed.
Abortion providers in Brevard and Orange counties said some Brevard residents go to Orange County clinics to avoid scrutiny here.
Orange County has four abortion clinics, all in Orlando. The county reported 10,173 abortions in 1997, almost 2,000 more than in 1996. In 1983, 4,494 abortions were performed in Orange.
Tammy Sobieski, owner of the Women’s Health Centers in Orlando and Daytona Beach, said competition in Orlando has made abortions somewhat less expensive than in Brevard.
“It may be cheaper to get an abortion in Orlando, but the picketing has certainly had an effect on (the decline in Melbourne abortions),” she said.
“Where would you go? They may be afraid that they are going to see someone they know, or the picketers may know their family. You can’t get away from them there. (Protesters) own the house across the street (from Aware Woman).”
Some pro-life activists, such as Meredith Raney, spokesman for Christians for Life in Melbourne, work full-time against Aware Woman. He praised the downward slide in abortions.
“Only God knows the true reason,” Raney said. “In 1989, a concentrated pro-life activism movement began and has continued since with varying degrees of participation but always with a constant presence. We have experimented with all kinds of approaches.”
Raney said he hopes to drive Aware Woman out of business. “We are getting very close to the point of diminishing returns, where the abortion rate will suddenly tumble to near zero in Brevard County for pure economic reasons,” he said.
Patricia Baird-Windle, owner of, the Aware Woman clinic, said protesters cut business at Aware Woman by about 50 percent.
“These are professional Protesters, full time, with no visible means of support,” she said. Protesters have pressured at least 25 doctors to quit the clinic or not accept work over the past several years, she said.
“To pay our overhead and meet our expenses, we have done 100 to 102 surgery days per year,” she said. “The loss of doctors has pushed that to 90 surgery days per year.”
Almost all abortions in Brevard are performed at Aware Woman. Hospitals sometimes perform abortions in emergency situations, such as when the mother’s life is in danger.
Though abortions have increased in Florida, the drop in abortions in Brevard seems to reflect the national trend.
Stanley Hinshaw of the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, which researches issues of reproductive health, said declines nationally and locally could be attributed to improved birth control and a greater use of condoms.
“The main part of the fall is among teenagers,” Hinshaw said. “There are fewer unintended pregnancies and a tendency to continue unintended pregnancies. We don’t see a decline in the abortion rate among older women.”
Hinshaw said many providers are under reporting or failing to report to the state the number of abortions actually performed.
In a survey completed in 1996, Hinshaw said abortions were under-reported in Florida.
“We compared our numbers with those of the state’s and found it was under reported by 18 percent,” Hinshaw said.
Baird-Windle agreed, saying that other medical practices provide abortions in Brevard, but not all report the work to the state.
State statutes require that all abortions be reported. Information on who provides abortions is not public record, but pro-life activists have discovered the identities of abortion providers, Baird-Windle said.
“There is a fear of being identified,” Hinshaw said.