Key warrior for abortion rights gives up clinics

Patricia Windle has turned over control of her Melbourne and West Palm Beach clinics.

By Lynne Bumpus-Hooper, The Orlando Sentinel

MELBOURNE — Worn down by Florida’s abortion battles, the owner of the Aware Woman Center for Choice is stepping away from her clinics in Melbourne and West Palm Beach.

Patricia Baird Windle, 64, has turned over operations to Tammy Sobieski, who owns clinics in Orlando and Daytona Beach.

Windle, who has heart problems, said she will stay in the abortion-rights movement, but that it’s time after 22 years to step out of the forefront.

“The last trip to the emergency room did it for me,” she said Friday.

Also, the long-controversial Melbourne clinic is being forced to move because of a U.S. Highway 1 widening project. Next week will be its last at Dixie Way.

A new location has not been announced.

The Melbourne clinic became a focus of nationwide anti-abortion activities in the early 1990s when Operation Rescue staged a training camp for protesters. As many as 300 would crowd the street, shouting at patients.

Windle sued and won a buffer zone to protect her staff and patients from harassment. The concept of protective zones is now the law of the land, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Over the years, protesters have stink-bombed the clinic, tied up its telephone lines, and followed doctors, staff and the Windles to their homes. There also have been lawsuits, which contributed to Windle’s quitting.

“We need the help of the courts and I believe they will ultimately benefit Tammy and the clinics, but the federal system has just moved too slowly to help me,” Windle said.

With all the adversity, business has dropped to about half the level before the training camps.

“The absolute truth is I’ve allowed it to ruin my health far to long,” said Windle, who suffers from congestive heart failure.

Even before Windle stepped down, the anti-abortion activist who has concentrated on the clinic for nearly a decade had scheduled a celebration of the clinic’s impending move.

Meredith Raney, head of Pregnancy Outreach and Christians for Life, gave credit to God for any victory against Windle, saying all he did was show up.

As for whether he had contributed to her declining health, Raney said it was all relative.

“In light of babies having arms and legs ripped off and heads crushed, anything we’ve done to Patricia Windle is mild in comparison,” he said.

Should the Melbourne clinic be unable to find a new location, as Raney predicts, he pledged to move to Orlando and continue his crusade there.

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