Abortion doctors’ suit thrown out, 12/24/1999

Lynne Bumpus-Hooper, The Orlando Sentinel

MELBOURNE, FL — The second in a series of suits filed against abortion protesters has been dismissed, this time by a federal judge in Ocala, because the clinic owners who brought the legal actions did not pursue them in court.

A series of three suits were filed by attorney Roy Lucas a year ago on behalf of Dr. James Pendergraft and Patricia Windle. Pendergraft owns clinics across Florida, including locations in Ocala and Orlando, and Windle owned two, in Melbourne and West Palm Beach.

The Melbourne suit was dismissed in September because of Windle’s failure to respond to motions and move the case forward. Windle was in the process of leaving the business and transferring her clinics to a new owner.

Then last week, the Ocala suit was dismissed for the same reason. The third suit, brought by Windle, is pending in West Palm Beach.

A spokesperson for Pendergraft said the two dismissals should not be taken as an indication that Pendergraft’s fight is over with the anti-abortion activists who regularly demonstrate outside the clinics.

“Absolutely in no way is Dr. Pendergraft backing down in any way or fashion,” said Marti MacKenzie, spokesperson for the doctor. “It is very awkward that he has been unable to get in touch with his attorney, but it is the holiday season and we think that has a lot to do with it.”

But Meredith Raney, a longtime anti-abortion activist, said he sees it differently. “Two of them being dismissed, and I hear a third is getting ready to be dismissed also, just tells me what we’ve been saying all along is right. These were frivolous suits,” Raney said.

The suits differed slightly on some issues but basically both sought to limit activities outside the clinics. Central Florida has been a battleground for the abortion debate, and questions raised here have been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pendergraft has said he wanted to protect his staff and patients from anti-abortion activists. He was unavailable for comment this week.

But Raney said there has been no violence in Central Florida, and there will not be.

“All we’re there doing is offering help to desperate women. We want to offer solutions short of their killing their children,” Raney said. In addition to protesting abortions, the activists also counsel women, he said.

MacKenzie said even though things have been quiet recently at the clinics, there’s no guarantee that will continue. “Simply because there has been no violence of late is no assurance all the needed protections are taken care of,” she said.

Lucas could not be reached this week for comment. The telephone lines to his office had been disconnected.

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