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the Body Politic
Vol. 6, No. 1 - January 1996, Page 4
Copyright © 1997 by the Body Politic Inc.
Letters

An Open Letter to Justice Harry Blackmun

On the Occasion of the 23rd Anniversary of the Roe. vs. Wade Decision

From Patricia Baird Windle

Saturday, December 9, 1995

The Honorable Justice Harry Blackmun
United States Supreme Court Judge, Ret.
The Supreme Court
Washington, D.C.

Dear Justice Blackmun,

I write you today as the next anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision is on the horizon. I am an abortion provider. My clinics were the plaintiffs in the Madsen case that was your last abortion case while seated on the bench. I could not write you sooner because I did not want to make an ex-parte communication.

There are many things I want to tell you. These fall into the categories of the individual stories and of the daily horror of the persecution we live with, this religious war.
... he decided, for the second time in a month, that our clinic was experiencing extreme complications. He went to the police cruiser parked on the streets and started screaming to the police lieutenant that we were allowing a woman to die without proper medical care.

The first is of the impact your decision has had on the lives of many women and men, their families and communities. Though I am sure that you know this impact is profound, perhaps you do not know much at the individual level. No one in this nation knows the daily impact, the value of abortion to thousands of women in their personal lives as well as do the providers who serve them.

There are terrible stories. Let me share a few with you.

Last year we took as a patient a woman dying of cancer that had metastasized into her brain. The tumor was so large that it had swollen her skull into a grotesquery. Like many female tumors, it was estrogen dependent. Continuing the pregnancy would cause the cancer to grow faster, would shorten her already severely compromised life. Performing the abortion would give her a few more days of life, a little less pain.

When she and her partner came to us for her consultation, her partner was lured across the street by the anti-abortion extremists who own the house facing the clinic. As usual, they were screaming offers of help. Naively, the young man walked over to them. He explained her near terminal condition. They got his phone number.

That night, they called repeatedly to harangue her that she should not have the abortion.

The next day, an ambulance brought her to our clinic because her partner was unable to take another day off from his job. As our patient was being wheeled into the clinic, the fanatics were howling like demented banshees that she must not have an abortion. The ambulance left. When it returned, one of the most unbalanced of the radicals came close to going berserk.

Since his friends had not told him the details of our patient's condition, he decided, for the second time in a month, that our clinic was experiencing extreme complications. He went to the police cruiser parked on the streets and started screaming to the police lieutenant that we were allowing a woman to die without proper medical care. The threat he made to the policeman was that if the lieutenant did not go in and save her that he would be forced to storm the clinic himself to "rescue her."

Realizing that the extremist was about to lose control, the lieutenant got out of the patrol car and told him that he would go up to the clinic and ascertain if an emergency was taking place. Of course, there were no problems. We were just caring for this very sick woman--plus our other patients.

When the woman was wheeled out into the portico by the ambulance attendants who had returned for her, she first asked them to wait a moment. Fearing more unpleasantness, she pulled the sheet up over her head so she would not have to see the men hanging over the back fence and lining the property across the street. This, in turn, convinced the fanatic that she was dead. Only after a long talk with the policeman did he calm down.
We thank you for all you have done for these many women whose personal stories reflect the impact you have had on their lives, the freedoms you afford them. Few even know your name. All owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.

How tragic that, as sick as that woman was, no doctor in this community would perform an abortion even to lengthen her life. This is not the first time we have seen women brought by ambulance even directly from the hospital and readmitted afterward. If our clinic was not open this woman would have been subjected to a 150-180 mile round trip to Orlando.

The second woman's story I want to tell you is that of a young woman who came to us from a distance by bus. She was sixteen years old and carrying her sixth fetus, in her fifth pregnancy. The twins from the prior pregnancy had been stillborn when she was fifteen, leaving her with three living children, the first delivered when she was eleven years old. Her lover was in prison at the time we saw her. She was immaculately dressed, well groomed and very pretty.

I questioned why she had come on the bus. Did she not have a friend who could bring her? Her response was that she had to act in total secrecy because her father was a well-known minister and he did not believe in abortion and would punish her.

My grandmother's heart was taken with this lovely young woman-child-- even more so when we realized she was illiterate and could not read her surgery consent forms. Pregnant at ten, she left school and had not learned to read at all well.

Justice Blackmun, I could not allow her to take a bus home after her surgery. I asked for staff volunteers. Two staff, tired after a full day, offered to drive her home, a long round trip for them. When they go to her country town, they were delayed two more hours. It seems that not being able to read, not being a driver, she did not know exactly where she lived. They drove around for almost two hours trying to find her house. Eventually they found her home and dropped her a few blocks away so the girl's father would not see them.

These are two of the most desperate stories but daily there are other, some mundane, most compelling, all real. Women have abortions because they cannot afford to feed the children they already have. They have abortions because they are too young, too frightened, abused or abandoned by their men. The stories never stop.

You have heard a great deal of testimony about the war abortion providers fight in their professional and personal lives. Please believe me when I tell you it is far, far worse than the details you already know. The campaign against all abortion providers is complex beyond reporting.

Extremists have used abortion providers and our patients as their research and development laboratory to devise coercion schemes, to practice extortion tactics against us. Now they are starting to use the same tactics against all of those with whom they disagree and hope to conquer. Their master plan is nothing less than to take over this land whose freedoms we prize so highly.

I do not know how much longer we can hold out. Daily, they take the license plate numbers of every car that comes to the Melbourne clinic. They have now corresponded with more than 4,000 of our patients, tradespeople and friends who visit the clinic. Knowing that their privacy is so breached has scared away more than 30% of our patients, reducing our income while our overhead stays the high.

These nasty people are desperate to identify the new doctors who joined us fourteen months ago. We are forced to switch cars and drivers, to send out many decoy cars and to bring the doctors in while hiding under a blanket. We fear for the doctors and their drivers' lives. If their identities are discovered there is no doubt that, if not killed, they and their families, their partners, their neighbors, landlords and hospitals will be harassed unmercifully.

This is the same pattern of harassment that forced us to close our Pt. St. Lucie clinic after the landlords, duly frightened, lifted our lease.

It is much worse than the public realizes.

Still, we will hang on as long as we can. We know the women, we know their stories. We know how they need us.

We thank you for all you have done for these many women whose personal stories reflect the impact you have had on their lives, the freedoms you afford them. Few even know your name. All owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.

Please accept our thanks for your help with Roe vs. Wade and all the other cases where you have been the heart of the court.

Warmly,
Patricia Baird Windle
Owner, Aware Woman Centers for Choice


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