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the Body Politic
Vol. 4, No. 2 - February 1994, Page 17
Copyright © 1994, 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.
Patricia Baird-Windle: A Woman AWARE
Interview by Anne Bower
Talking to Patricia Baird-Windle, owner of the Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne, Florida is like settling into your favorite chair with a good book on a rainy day. Listening to her kindly, deep-pitched voice, softened by a touch of Southern accent, is a delight you don't want to end. However, though her delivery may be all peaches and cream, her comments are pure acid -- or poison, if you are an anti-choice zealot.
While interviewing Ms. Windle, it became obvious that there are two central forces in her life -- Feminism and Family. Ms. Windle is a devoted wife. She and second husband Ted have been married 35 years. Then, there are the children -- 4 living, 1 deceased -- and grandchildren -- 6, sort of. Even Ms. Windle's clinics are a family affair. Oldest daughter Roni runs the Aware Woman Center. All the family members, including in-laws, support Ms. Windle in her profession.
The other moving force in her life, feminism, lead Ms. Windle to her current profession. Ms. Windle freely admits to being a "professional feminist". When the Equal Right Amendment activities were sweeping the nation in the 1970s, Ms. Windle became involved and from that involvement, and with daughter Roni's help, decided she would devote the rest of her life to feminist activities. Fortunately, as her interview shows, the rest of the family concurred in her decision.
Ms. Windle, never one to run from a fight, has been going head to head with protestors from the first day she announced the opening of her clinic seventeen years ago. Right now, the injunction obtained by her clinic is on its way to a hearing in the Supreme Court (see Network, page 35). She believes the Aware Woman Center may be the smallest clinic ever to manage a case in front of the Court. It's been seventeen years of protests, attacks, threats, and court proceedings, but Ms. Windle still loves her work.
Tragedy in her personal life -- an illegal abortion in the 1950's and the loss of a child to a blood disease -- have made her especially sensitive to the wide range of sorrow in other women's lives. All this, plus her natural talents and desires, combine to make running a women's health clinic the perfect fit for Patricia Baird-Windle. Ms. Windle, who from her back yard can watch the space shuttle take off, is a happy woman.
Part I of her fascinating life and insights follows.
Q: Patricia, I've never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I've seen you on television. You look like a kindly, matronly woman. Someone who might be somebody's grandmother. How did you get embroiled in the abortion issue?
You know, the anti's are always saying "we're in it for the money". They neglect to mention their ministers take home a paycheck. Anyone can run with a cheap shot, saying someone does it for the money. I'll tell you what I'm in it for. First, my personal experience showed me how desperately women needed to be able to control their own fertility. The second reason is, I can't imagine anyone who has a career that's a better fit for their talents, skills, and desires.
A: Let me start by saying I am the quintessential grandmother. I don't think there's anybody in the whole world who loves being a grandmother as much as I do. I'm almost addicted to my grandchildren.
Q: You mean you're one of those who always has a wallet full of pictures.
A: Yes. Quite frankly, much of the time I'm dragging one or more of them with me. I'm extraordinarily fortunate to have all of them here in Florida.
Q: How many children of your own do you have?
A: That's a complicated question. We have a blended family and a foster son. I have four living children. One son died because of a blood disease. My nephew has essentially been my foster son for years. When my children have married, their spouses become my children also.
Q: Your Christmas table must be very full.
A: There are between 18 and 19. We don't have a lot of grandchildren in number, but it's an interesting mix. There are two born into the family, three adopted, and my foster son has one.
Q: Now that you've showed us all the pictures in your wallet, how did you start your clinic?
A: How I got into this business is a marvelous story. When feminism began to flower in Florida, as it was across the nation, women had several state level meetings. We just flocked together to be with each other. The first Florida Radical Feminist Conference was held at a Boy Scout Camp. I still am friends with many of those people, even after all these years. I think the meeting was held in 1972, and leaves many lovely memories.
In late '73, they held a second meeting and I was unable to go. So, I sent my sixteen-year old daughter. Roni and I've always been very close. She was a feminist aborning. The meeting was in Tallahassee, and organized by the women who operated the Tallahassee Women's Feminist Health Center. When Roni came home from that meeting she said, "Mother, I know exactly what you need to do in your next career. These are non-medical people who own a clinic. It's a feminist medical clinic and I can't imagine anything that you'd be better at."
Q: What were you doing at the time?
A: My husband, Ted, is a career military officer who has been retired for many years. Ted was a space pioneer. He was with Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Missions. We've been here thirty-three years. Melbourne is home now.
At the time of the feminist meetings, we also had a retail jewelry store and a wholesale manufacturing business. Many of your readers might remember ads in Ms. for a small jewelry company called, Uppity Women Unite. We made feminist jewelry, among other things. We lost that business during one of the space layoffs.
After that, I had given myself a year to decide what to do. A month later, I came to the breakfast table and announced that I wanted to be a professional feminist. Ted asked what I thought that would mean. I told him I didn't know, but we were going to do a Values Clarification exercise until I figured out what of my talents and skills I could best use. Ted and I made a personal bond. I had given him twenty years of his career, and he said now he would give me twenty years. For my way of thinking, this is the best arrangement any feminist could ever make.
Not a week after I decided to be a professional feminist, I got an opportunity to review a grant on contraception for the Florida Health Department. I went to our Women's Center, which I had helped to found but not been terribly active in, to get them to help me review the grant. Within days, I knew I would open a clinic. I had business skills, feminist politics, and quite a bit of medical knowledge because what had happened to my children and their blood disease.
Q: What was the problem?
A: There was a problem with Rh incompatibility. That's what killed my fifth child.
Besides losing that child, there was the matter of my illegal abortion. I had it when my first husband was in jail. By the time of the fifth pregnancy, I should have had an abortion. That baby would not have died in anguish. But I was cowardly because of my experience with the illegal abortion. I was entitled to that abortion, by law. Even the air force said so.
After my son died, I spent seven years in extreme depression. He died in agony when I could have had him aborted at the three month mark and he would not have died in pain.
Q: When was your illegal abortion?
A: In 1957. Roni was just a few months old, Reed was about 18 months. My first husband, a brilliant and beautiful man, had what we now know was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time spent in Korea. He had been shot down behind enemy lines.
I was trying to see that these two little kids got fed while he was on a hard labor gang in Louisiana. I could barely care for the two children I already had, so I got an illegal abortion. Not long after that, I met and married Ted. We had three children of our own, and recently celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary.
Coping with the medical knowledge necessary to understand the problems with Ted and my three babies was more complex than that surrounding abortion. I figured, if could understand Rh, I could understand abortion.
Q: So, by the year 1976, you felt qualified to open a women's health center.
A: Absolutely. You know, the anti's are always saying "we're in it for the money". They neglect to mention their ministers take home a paycheck. Anyone can run with a cheap shot, saying someone does it for the money. I'll tell you what I'm in it for. First, my personal experience showed me how desperately women needed to be able to control their own fertility. The second reason is, I can't imagine anyone who has a career that's a better fit for their talents, skills, and desires.
Q: You're a happy woman.
A: Unequivocally. Even in the middle of all the craziness we've been put through, most
of the time, I'm as contented as a person could be. I get to use everything I'm good at in this career.
In the midst of this, the city of Cocoa Beach had passed a lunatic piece of "health care standards ordinance" designed to keep us from opening. For example, one of the stipulations was, for every person who had an appointment, there had to be a unit of whole blood, typed and cross matched
You should also know that every one of my children is involved to some extent in the clinic. We have a totally family run operation. Roni is Administrator of The Aware Woman Center in Melbourne, and has been off and on for years.
Q: Roni is the child who said you should open a clinic.
A: Right. She picked my career. She even picked my friends. When she was in school years ago, she wanted me to meet two of her teachers. I did and we've been best friends ever since. Naturally, Roni is the mother of my first grandchild.
Q: Well, Patricia, even if you're "not in it for the money", the bills do have to be paid. Last year there was much disruption of services. Are things any better this year?
A: When the protestors are really vicious on the sidewalks, it does hurt. Another reporter asked me a while ago, if the court allows us to use RICO to make claims, what kind of damages would I report? (see page 14) It was the first time anyone asked that question, so Ted and I went back and counted. Using good accounting principles, I can show protestors lost us about one million dollars -- all our growth for the last four and a half years.
Q: When did things start getting really crazy in Melbourne?
A: That's the most critical of the questions. We were either the 34th, 35th, or 36th clinic to open in the state of Florida. The public announcement that we were going to open was made on June 4, 1977. That day we had our first organized demonstration. We were the first clinic in the state to meet with organized difficulties.
A: I think the simple answer was, it had taken our opponents three and a half years to get their act together.
Q: Bruce Cadle has been your nemesis lately. Was he involved in these early protests?
A: (Laughter) No. He was still in high school. He went to the same high school my kids did. He's the same age as either Roni or Reed.
Q: Who was your main opposition then?
A: Remember that Ted was in the military. The primary enemies were a military couple at Patrick Air Force Base. He was the Public Information Officer. That means he was a trained propagandist. So, from the very first minute, I have had people fighting me who knew the use of propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion. And quite frankly, mind control techniques.
The Craigs, Jim and Gretchen, were Catholic, but early on, Fundamentalists joined. The Craigs organized a big public response against me, starting with my landlady, who they pressured. She begged me to let her out of the lease and I did. Then we found a location in Cocoa Beach and when we applied to the city for a permit, we were illegally denied one. This all happened late June and July of '77.
We fought this in court and the judge told the city to give us a license. The city still refused and the judge said, $1,000.00 a day fine. At that point, the city lawyer pulled the license out of his briefcase. This was high drama in what I call the "dog days" of '77. You know, Rudyard Kipling said "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun." I don't think most of the picketers are English.
Q: Now you could open.
A: No. We went to city hall, but the license said, "except for surgery." They were still playing these vicious games. Someone had suggested, if they put enough road blocks in our way, we would run out of money. At that point we were very close to it.
In the midst of this, the city of Cocoa Beach had passed a lunatic piece of "health care standards ordinance" designed to keep us from opening. For example, one of the stipulations was, for every person who had an appointment, there had to be a unit of whole blood, typed and cross matched.
At that time I was out of money. A major figure in the reproductive field called and said, "honey, you've got to stop dealing with local lawyers. You have to call Roy Lucas."
Q: Who is he?
A: Roy was a very famous abortion rights attorney who worked with Sara Weddington and the Rockefeller Foundation. Utterly brilliant, but, like many brilliant people, an eccentric.
By August 17, we had opened and were offering birth control. We were very busy, but we couldn't do abortion. I had about three hundred dollars left in the bank the day I called Roy in Washington, DC. I was very humble and frightened. I'm not a person with much humility, but that day I had my hat in my hand. I was begging and desperate. He came on the telephone. I'm a Southerner, but this guy talked slow. He said, "Paaatrrricaa, I've been waaaiting for you."
The next week he came down on his silver jet and filed papers for an emergency hearing in federal court, and on the first of September, we had our first day of abortion services.
Q: Deus ex machina.
A: Yes. I guess the biggest shock for me was how young Roy was. He was younger than I was. The second thing that scared me was how big his bill was. His retainer was $5,000. I went to the public, again, with my hat in my hand, and reminded people that they said my clinic had to be opened. I told them they better put some money in my hand for this lawyer. They came through for me. There were loans, mortgages subsidies, and gifts. I structured a hierarchy of loans, you wouldn't believe. All of this happened in the midst of serious public pressure. The anti's called every one of my neighbors in Indialantic, a beautiful little bedroom community. They were asking my neighbors to keep track of all my comings and goings.
Q: Even 17 years ago, people were trying to stalk you.
A: Yes. We learned from it and drew strength from it. Sometimes we engage in a certain type of "clinical denial" just to sustain ourselves. If I sat every day and said, "OK, Patricia, there are people out there who's career it is to follow you and your children, your doctors and staff members, and sometimes your patients", I couldn't go on. Denial sometimes helps.
Q: Sometimes it's just a river in Egypt.
Next month, Ms. Windle talks about her theories of the rise of Operation Rescue and gives a history of abortion protesting in Florida.
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