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the Body Politic
Vol. 4, No. 3 - March 1994, Page 09
Copyright © 1994, 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.

Patricia Baird-Windle: The Aware Warrior

Interview by Anne Bower

Last month, we began an interview with Patricia Baird Windle, owner of the Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne, Florida. Ms. Windle has been a target for anti-choice activity ever since she announced the opening of her clinic in 1977. As a result, Ms. Windle has become very experienced in dealing with anti-choice methods, and is a great student of their theory and tactics.

This month, Ms. Windle picks up the story of the what has happened to her and her family since the opening of Aware Woman.

Q: Patricia, because you have been such an outspoken critic of OR, some zealots have said you're a witch. Do you spend your spare time stirring cauldrons?

A: (Laughter) I think there should be a "b" in there somewhere.

Q: Patricia, what do you think motivated your opposition right from the first.

A: I think it's important for your readers to understand that from the beginning the opposition was "leader dependent". We would have people come in and say, "We're gonna close that clinic down." They would last for two and a half to three years. Most of the leaders were men, and eventually they would "slink off", I think, because they had failed. Then came the Spring of 1989 and things changed dramatically. A paid staff of cadre showed up whose "career move" was to put us out of business.

Q: Are you talking about Operation Rescue?

A: Yes. Of course, before Operation Rescue, there was Joe Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action League.

Q: When did OR first darken your doorstep?

A: It was March of '89 and I got a call from the local police chief saying, "They're gonna hit you and we've got to plan what to do." We knew we were into a violent cycle and it hasn't really let up since. I think the local anti-choice activism is why the first IMPACT Team training was held here.

I've also got some thoughts on what is behind this activity. I believe that some bishops of the Catholic Church have been very tolerant of this activity. Remember, Joe Scheidler was originally a monk. Look at Father Trosch in Alabama. I think he was given a very long rope until he went so far his bishop had to rein him in.

Now we've got people like Paul Hill from Defensive Action in Pensacola. He just came out of nowhere, claiming to be a former Presbyterian Minister. I had a very good source tell me he is really a mechanic.

Q: Whatever did you do to get OR to move its headquarters to Melbourne?

A: Let me back way up on that answer. I think OR is in Melbourne because of its history. This used to be "boom town USA", and actually still is. It's one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. There is a big military base here which means there are a lot of transient, lonely people who are fair game for Fundamentalist religions. Many of these religions feed off of those type of people. In the 1960s, Melbourne became the site for one of the major charismatic congregations in the world. All of this was the doing of Jamie Buckingham.

Q: Who was he?

A: Well, you have to almost be a charismatic fundamentalist to know him. He was incredibly well known in those circles and his church, the Tabernacle, became a Mecca for fundamentalists the world over. He started as Assistant Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Melbourne. After being kicked out of there, he started his own non-denominational church which was extremely fundamentalist and evangelical.

We first heard of him in a little store front church in Indian Harbor Beach. You should realize that Florida is littered with tiny towns. Ted and I have lived in a lot of them. Mr. Buckingham developed the magazine, Charisma. He also supplemented his income by being a ghost writer for some religious authors, such as Pat Boone and Anita Bryant. Supposedly, he had thirty-one books to his credit before one appeared under his own name.

Q: You seem to be speaking of him in the past tense.

A: He died last year and one of my regrets is that I never confronted him in some type of public setting.

However, Jamie Buckingham's legacy is still here. He never developed a giant church the likes of which you might find in Texas. Our area of Florida is squeezed between the river and the ocean, so all you can do is go north or south. Mr. Buckingham left many satellite churches up and down the coast which has given the antis incredible geographic coverage. These churches provided a base that helped make life miserable for us early on.

Q: Where do you think Operation Rescue came from?

A: I believe that Joe Scheidler saw all the convictions that had accumulated over time and foresaw the end of his cycle in 1984. He reviewed the situation and decide a different strategy was needed. This resulted in the "professionalization" of the anti-choice movement and Operation Rescue was born. I think OR eventually moved here (see story pg.7) because there was so much support in place from the evangelical churches.

Q: Well, with all of the years of harassment and violence you've experienced in Florida, last year your legislature failed to pass a clinic access bill. What do you think the chances are for this year?

A: I think it depends on what happens with F.A.C.E.. If the federal bill is strong enough, I think the state bill will be ignored. We hope the federal bill will be out of committee before our legislature ends it session.

Q: In the light of all this pending legislation, what is currently going on at your clinics?

A: For starters, the Melbourne police are not enforcing our injunction. They say they are, but its an absolute lie. You know, we at the clinic are reluctant part-time warriors. It has now become my responsibility to see that the mayor and city attorney know what is happening out here. Do you realize that we have an anti-choice mayor and city council?

Protestors have increased the level of what I call pranks. They take out ads in the local "shopper" newspapers saying one of my employees is having a garage sale. Then, there's the fence. The city gave us a variance so we could erect a 10 foot high fence. One of the protestors cleared out behind the fence, drives his pickup back there and stands on it to take pictures of the doctors and patients.

The police have only caught about one quarter of what is happening and I believe they have jeopardized the safety of my staff, patients, and family.

Q: Patricia, because you have been such an outspoken critic of OR, some zealots have said you're a witch. Do you spend your spare time stirring cauldrons?

A: (Laughter) I think there should be a "b" in there somewhere. Let me just say that I am someone who their entire life has not had a close relationship with organized religion -Wicca is an organized religion.

Q: If it isn't religion, what keeps you going?

A: I guess it's the fact that my whole life I have been one to fight injustice. On top of that, is the support of my whole family. My kids, on their own, belong to groups like People for the American Way and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Even their spouses share my views.

My family is what keeps me going.

Also see Aware Woman Launched to Supreme Court in this issue.

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