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Abortion clinic's low profile contrasts with past conflicts

By Editorial Staff
Published February 29, 2000

Quotes

02/29/00 – Sheriff Williams is a saint — Patricia Baird-Windle
08/29/99 – Abortion is a sacrament — Patricia Baird-Windle

May Patricia find what Norma McCorvey, Brenard Nathanson, and many of us other sinners have found, the Savior Jesus.

Melbourne’s abortion protesters can’t touch the new clinic in a strip mall

By Lynne Bumpus-Hooper, Orlando Sentinel

MELBOURNE, FL — Throughout the 1990s, the abortion debate raged outside the Aware Woman Clinic. At times, crowds swelled into the hundreds. Feminist groups armed with golf umbrellas shielded patients from the protesters who waved posters of bloody fetuses and screamed “Mommy! Don’t kill me!”

These days, though, the fight that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court is considerably calmer. In fact, the biggest issue so far amounts to nothing more than a parking squabble.

The Aware Woman Clinic, where federal courts established the first buffer zone to shield clinic patients from protesters, was torn down because of the widening of U.S. Highway 1. Its owner, Patricia Windle sold it rather than struggle through a move.

A new abortion facility, operated by a veteran Orlando and Daytona Beach clinic owner, has opened its doors in another location. The Women’s Health Center of Melbourne, owned by Tammy Sobieski, is in a strip mall called Suntree Plaza.

The clinic sits in back of the shopping center, shielded from passing traffic by a string of mom-and-pop-style shops. The clinic’s name isn’t on the building.

Protesters have demonstrated on the sidewalk surrounding the plaza, but from that location the clinic is barely visible. Because the plaza is private property, protesters have been prohibited from parking in the plaza lots. They also face arrest for trespassing if they enter the plaza. No arrests have been made so far, but protesters have been issued warnings.

No-parking areas on the street bordering the plaza are also off limits. This prompted protesters, and some plaza tenants, to park in an open grassy area between the plaza and a Brevard County fire station, but now the station has been fenced in and the last of the grass parking roped off with police tape.

Meredith Raney, a Melbourne man active in the anti-abortion movement, thinks the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department is being overly zealous in protecting the clinic. Raney has written the head of the FBI asking for an investigation of Sheriff Phil Williams.

Raney says the days of yelling and screaming outside a clinic are over for him and others. “Talking in conversational terms — not yelling, not screaming — is the way to solve problems without killing their babies,” Raney said. Now, he says, all he wants to do is to be allowed to practice what he calls “reproductive health counseling’‘ outside the clinic doors.

Windle calls Williams “a saint” for enforcing existing laws. She said she had to beg Melbourne Police for enforcement in her years of operation inside the city limits.

But Williams said he is no saint and that he most definitely is not taking sides on the debate. “I could care less about the cause that either individual champions. My sole job is to see the laws of the state as well as the rights of private property owners and the safety of the public are lawfully enforced and protected,” Williams said.

Clinic owner Sobieski says she doesn’t want to join any public debate. “My work is not about Meredith Raney, the neighbors, none of that has anything to do with me,” she said. “My work is to offer a space to have a conversation with women about family planning, women’s health, pap smears with cancer, abortion, breast lumps and birth control.”

Sobieski says the anti-abortion protesters haven’t caused any major disruptions. “It’s almost like they are all in a play, and while that’s going on, we’re inside taking care of women who call us on the phone and make an appointment for our services,” Sobieski said.

Perhaps those most affected are the small-businesses owners in the strip mall. “Of course it’s affected our business,” said Floyd Bradley, owner of Niki’s Restaurant. “It used to be the construction workers could park their trucks on the side of the road and come over here for lunch. Now they can’t do that.”


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