Abortion clinic owner who lost facility's lease vows to reopen

January 06, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- An often-picketed abortion clinic, forced to close this week when frightened landlords refused to renew the lease, will reopen in two weeks, its owner vowed yesterday.

The tactics used to close the Aware Woman Health Center are a preview of the next wave of anti-abortion activities, say leaders from both sides.

Harassment of landlords and other tenants proved effective in Broward County last year, when protesters drove the Women's Clinic out of two rented sites and into a third.

"What we are seeing in Florida, we are starting to see all over the country," said Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers in Washington. "It is a well-orchestrated, concentrated attack."

Abortion opponents are delighted with Aware Woman's plight.

"There will be more and more closings . . . as we articulate to people why abortion is not good for a community," said the Rev. Keith Tucci, executive director of Operation Rescue National, the Florida-based militant abortion opposition group based in Florida. Rescue members were among the activists who picketed the Port St. Lucie clinic.

"No doubt we're going to continue it," Mr. Tucci said. "When they open again in two weeks, we are going to be ready for them."

But abortion rights activists say harassment won't work.

"The landlords were fed up and wouldn't renew our lease," said Patricia Baird Windle, the clinic's owner. "With their economic harassment, they've won a small battle, but they haven't won the war. We'll reopen elsewhere very soon."

Patients will be treated in Ms. Windle's West Palm Beach facility in the meantime.

As new clinic protection laws and court orders emerge to restrict protests and as violence against clinics and doctors causes the anti-abortion movement to lose some of its friends in high government places, the movement is turning to new methods to disrupt the system.

Southport Professional Plaza, the complex that refused to renew the clinic's lease, is owned by an optometrist and a dentist and is home to a child-care center.

"The . . . individuals and groups who oppose your practice cannot be trusted to remain nonviolent," Dr. Jeffrey Fox, the dentist who co-owns the plaza, wrote Ms. Windle. "Quite frankly, their propensity toward violence is quite documented."

There are about 650 independent abortion clinics in the United States.

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