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Fla. health officials drop charges against three Planned Parenthood clinics

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) on Friday dropped complaints against three Planned Parenthood clinics alleging that the clinics violated the terms of their licenses, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Fineout, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/28).

Background

In July 2015, Gov. Rick Scott (R) called for an investigation into abortion clinics in the state following the release of misleading videos by the antiabortion-rights group Center for Medical Progress.

During the investigation, AHCA found no fetal tissue law violations, but claimed that the three Planned Parenthood facilities provided abortion care during the second trimester of pregnancy even though they were licensed only to provide abortion care in the first trimester. Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said the alleged violations were the result of AHCA having inconsistently applied its definition for gestational periods and that centers were in compliance with Florida law.

AHCA during the investigation used a rule that defines the second trimester as the "portion of a pregnancy following the 12th week and extending through the 24th week of gestation." However, Planned Parenthood said AHCA ignored an agency rule that defines the first trimester as "extending through the completion of 14 weeks of pregnancy as measured from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period [LMP]."

Planned Parenthood dropped its request for an emergency injunction after AHCA acknowledged the clinics could continue providing abortion care within 14 weeks of LMP, and the clinics last August resumed providing abortion care at 12 and 13 weeks of pregnancy. However, the organization at the time was still seeking a court order clarifying that abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy are legal at the three clinics (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/5).

Latest developments

AHCA on Friday asked an administrative judge to dismiss the cases against the three Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers.

State officials said they were no longer pursuing fines against the clinics because of a recently signed omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 1411) (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/28). Among other provisions, the law redefines gestation and pregnancy trimester dates, which affects when providers can offer abortion care. The law also imposes several new restrictions on abortion providers and prohibits local health departments from allocating public funds to organizations affiliated with abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, for family planning services and other reproductive care for low-income residents (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/28).

According to AHCA spokesperson Mallory McManus, the new law's definitions for trimester dates aligned with those of AHCA and "rendered these administrative proceedings moot" (Menzel, News Service of Florida/Orlando Sentinel, 3/28). However, according to the AP/Bee, HB 1411 does not take effect until July 1 and would not apply to the complaints filed last year.

Planned Parenthood on Monday filed a motion with the administrative judge seeking state reimbursement for legal costs incurred to defend the three clinics in court. According to the motion, the state's charges were "improper" and intended to "primarily harass Planned Parenthood" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/28).

State maintains charges against Bread and Roses Women's Health Center

State officials have not dropped similar charges filed against an independent provider, non-affiliate clinic, Bread and Roses Women's Health Center, that also was involved in AHCA's investigation (News Service of Florida/Orlando Sentinel, 3/28).

In September 2015, AHCA issued a $2,500 fine to Bread and Roses and a $3,000 fine to Aastra Women's Center for allegedly providing abortion services in the second trimester without the appropriate licensure. AHCA in December dropped its lawsuit against Aastra Women's Center after announcing that it was finalizing a settlement agreement with the clinic (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/5).

Comments

Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, criticized AHCA for "political gamesmanship."

Zdravecky said, "How convenient that now, six months later, they are conceding their case and dropping these politically motivated charges at the same moment that Rick Scott has signed new trimester standards into law that fly in the face of medically accepted standards." She added, "These actions by AHCA make clear they had no evidence and they knew it. Despite this, AHCA filed the charges and caused Planned Parenthood to devote considerable time and resources to frivolous and unwarranted charges when such resources could have been devoted to providing additional care and services to the Floridians who rely on Planned Parenthood every day for health care."

Separately, Julie Gallagher, a Tallahassee lawyer who represents the three Planned Parenthood clinics, criticized the state's new definition of gestation and pregnancy dates and said they would be difficult to implement. "The prevailing medical standard is always to measure weeks of pregnancy based on the last menstrual period," she said, adding, "AHCA now has gone and gotten this new definition put in, but since it goes against everything that the medical profession does, it's unclear how AHCA intends to use the definition" (News Service of Florida/Orlando Sentinel, 3/28).