By Cory Jo Lancaster, Orlando Sentinel Staff
MELBOURNE — For 12 years, people have gathered outside Patricia Baird Windle’s business with signs and chants about life and death.
No other business in Brevard has divided so many or caused so much anger, protests and inner questioning. Depending on what side of the fence you sit on, the business is a deathtrap for newborns or a life-giver for mothers.
Behind the controversy over Brevard’s only abortion clinic sits Baird Windle, shrouded from pro-life forces with an unlisted phone number, undisclosed address and a barrage of security devices.
She has faced 144 months of protesters outside Aware Woman Clinic in Melbourne but has escaped the bombs, arson, kidnapping and vandalism that have put abortion clinics on alert nationwide.
“We had a period of time five years ago with the burnings and the bombings. I had a couple months levitating off the mattress at night with worry and concern,” said the 54-year-old mother of four and grandmother of three.
“But it doesn’t bother me now . . . The only component that wears on me is frustration. That wears on me.”
The latest frustration comes from the pending Missouri case before the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to overturn the court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. A decision is expected in late June or early next year.
“The Right-to-Life movement, in my opinion, is lead by a bunch of white male supremacists,” she said. “Look at their groups. They’re all led by men. Ours are led by women. That tells you something, doesn’t it?”
Three years after the Roe vs. Wade decision, Baird Windle began thinking about opening an abortion clinic in Brevard. Her jewelry business in Indialantic had just closed and she wanted to open a business that would serve women.
She became the director of the South Brevard Women’s Center, a non-profit support and referral agency in Melbourne, and got involved in a local health planning council.
She already knew about medical procedures and hospitals. Her children spent countless hours in military hospitals as infants with blood disease in the 1950s. One died from it.
“I also volunteered at military hospitals to repay them for all the medical treatment for my children,” she said. “It was through all that I gained my medical savvy.”
By spring 1977, she had plans to open a clinic in downtown Melbourne. A local newspaper heard about it and ran a story, “Abortion Clinic Opening.”
“Within an hour we had our first protester,” recalled Baird Windle. “There was so much pressure that the woman who held the lease to the building asked me to move.”
After a court battle to obtain an occupational license, the clinic opened in Cocoa Beach and moved to its present location off U.S. Highway 1 in north Melbourne in 1982. Her second husband, Ted Windle, a retired military officer and engineer at Kennedy Space Center, works as the clinic bookkeeper.
“I’ve gotten the press and I’ve gotten the attention because I’m a good interview,” she said. “But honestly, this issue and this clinic is not Patricia Baird Windle. It’s hundreds of women and health care workers.”
Besides opening the clinic, Baird Windle founded the Florida Abortion Council and has been actively involved in the women’s rights movement nationwide.
“She’s an activist and a doer,” said Dr. Randall Whitney, who worked for Baird Windle for years and now runs an abortion and family planning clinic in Daytona Beach.
“She’s a leader of women’s rights in Florida and beyond. She’s recognized across the country in pro-choice circles,” he said.
Baird Windle also is working on several books – one detailing her 12 years in the abortion business and others on motivational techniques. She still buys and sells gemstones, one of her biggest hobbies, and likes to study architecture and religious fanaticism.
Born in Arkansas and raised in Louisiana as a Southern Baptist and Methodist, Baird Windle is often called “Maggie” by friends and family for her nickname “Magnolia Blossom,” given by her husband when they met on a blind date.
“I don’t have any college degrees,” she said. “I have the classic entrepreneurial personality. As a youngster, I thought that was a sign of fickleness . . . but entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy.”