By Jeff Schweers, FLORIDA TODAY
MELBOURNE — Patricia Baird-Windle could have said she retired as director of the Aware Woman Center for Choice because it was time for a new generation to take over.
At 64, she’s been on the battlefront of the abortion wars for 23-plus years and has run the only women’s clinic that performs abortions in Brevard County for 22 of those years.
She had an abortion herself, more than a decade before a 1973 Supreme Court ruling made the procedure legal, and she isn’t ashamed of calling herself an abortion provider.
“I’m not one of those ‘pregnancy termination’ people,” Baird-Windle said.
Despite the tough persona, however, Baird-Windle finally reached her breaking point. Constant hounding by pro-life activists and a state road-widening project that forced her to sell her clinic property was too much for one of the abortion movement’s pioneers.
“Just because I’m strong and tough doesn’t mean I can’t be tender and vulnerable,” she said.
Following a June hospital stay for a heart condition, Baird-Windle decided to get out of the women’s clinic business. She signed over management of the Aware Woman clinic in Melbourne and its affiliate in West Palm Beach to the Women’s Health Center of Orlando.
The Melbourne clinic, which now operates under the name Women’s Health Center, will have to relocate after Aug. 14 to make room for a Florida Department of Transportation project widening U.S. 1. No new location has been disclosed.
Baird-Windle and her clinic have been a prime target for the national pro-life movement for a decade, especially since a U.S. Supreme Court case involving Aware Woman enforced a buffer zone barring protesters from clinic entrances.
Baird-Windle has had national figures such as Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry on the picket lines, casing her clinic. She’s had death threats, bomb threats and suspicious packages left on her door step.
But it was Meredith Raney and his persistent band of local prolifers who finally got to her with their constant presence.
She says they ruined her physically, financially, emotionally and probably mentally.
“Raney has inflicted a reign of terror and horror for the last 10 years,” Baird-Windle said. Raney said Baird-Windle has been saying that for a long time, but has never offered any evidence or proof of violence committed by him or his followers.
“All the arrests at the clinic were civil disobedience-type things” such as blocking the clinic entrance and violating the buffer zone injunction, Raney said.
If Raney is Baird-Windle’s nemesis, then she said she is his life’s work.
“I given that man a life when he had none,” she said.
Raney said he went through a difficult divorce 10 years ago that gave him bouts of depression.
“I finally figured out the Lord was saving me for something,” he said. “I believe it was this cause.”
What led him to believe that, he said, was a close family member had an appointment at Aware Woman for an abortion, but backed out at the last minute.
“I did what seemed, logical and the right thing to do, to express my opposition to abortion,” he said.
Raney has been organizing demonstrations and other actions since 1989 against Aware Woman, at the clinic on Dixie Way off U.S. 1 and at Baird-Windle’s home in Melbourne Beach.
Raney also has fought his battle against Aware Woman on the legal front. He is involved in six pending lawsuits involving the clinic, two of which allege federal racketeering and civil rights violations.
Baird-Windle said the legal battles have depleted her financial resources.
But Raney plans to continue doing battle against the clinic, no matter what its name, who owns it, or where it is located.
The important thing is that Baird-Windle is out of the industry, at least the day-to-day involvement, Raney said.
“I continue to hope and pray that one day she will realize that abortion is murder,” he said.