State bars abortions at 2 clinics in Orlando, 1 in Tampa by Mitch E. Perry

08/17/06

The state of Florida has ordered 3 clinics – including one in Tampa - to stop doing abortions for a week – and ordered 2 other Orlando clinics to stop performing them indefinitely. They have also suspended the medical license of the owner of those clinics, Dr. James Pendergraft, on grounds that he illegally performed third-trimester abortions.

The restrictions began last week at one Orlando location, and by yesterday all five of Pendergraft's offices statewide had been ordered to stop providing abortions.

In addition, Pendergraft's medical license was suspended Wednesday in an emergency order that claims he has shown "a flagrant disregard for the laws of the state of Florida and a willingness to endanger the lives and health of pregnant patients."

Brandi Brown is a spokesperson for the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees medical clinics in Florida (roll tape#1 o.q.�they have emergency orders in place .for limitation or restriction on license, .which basically means they are not allowed to see acccept patients , or perform any new procedures…That is to say they can do regular gynecological visits, family planning,pap smears, that sort of thing, but they are not allowed to initiate any abortion procedures� )

The Florida Department of Health would not go on tape to describe the actions taken against Dr. Pendergraft, but in a press release they say that he has ‘revealed an unwillingness to abide by the rules and laws governing obstetricians and gynecologists’.

The suspension order prevents Pendergraft from practicing as a physician in Florida until final action by the Florida Board of Medicine.

The case against the doctor includes an abortion performed in 2005 for a woman whose fetus was determined to have swollen head, no lungs, and one kidney. The state says that no doctor wanted to perform an abortion on the woman.

(roll tape#2 o.q.�this woman needed a medical procedure, because of an extremely abnormal fetus….the longer this pregnancy continued, the greater the danger to this womans health�)

Marti McKenzie is a spokesperson for Dr. James Pendergraft. She agrees with the state’s charge that no doctor wanted to perform an abortion on the woman, but adds why that was the case (roll tape#3 o.q.�He was sought out by the doctors at this hospital, who were uncomfortable doing what needed to be done to preserve the health and protect the life of this woman, who was going thru one of the most horrible things any woman can face… She was an athlete..she wasn’t having her periods regularly. She found out about the pregnancy late, and discovered the fetus was extremely abnormal, did not have a chance of living. ..he was able to do the procedure in a clinical setting and to avoid major surgery�)

Under state law, third-trimester abortions are legal when "the termination of pregnancy is necessary to save the life or preserve the health of the pregnant woman." The law also requires the procedures to be done in a hospital unless two physicians "certify in writing" that an urgent operation is needed to save the pregnant woman's life.

In addition to the 2005 incident, state documents also describe a 2004 abortion in which Pendergraft determined a pregnant woman to be at 22 weeks' gestation. She was given medication to take at home to initiate uterine contractions and begin the abortion process.

But state records indicate that the woman progressed more quickly than expected and aborted the fetus at home before she could return to the clinic. A hospital later evaluated the fetus and estimated its gestational age at 25 to 27 weeks -- putting it in the third trimester.

But Pendergraft spokesperson Marti Mackenzie says it was actually a 2nd trimester abortion …She said the claims that age was incorrectly arrived at by procedures that are not recognized as scientifically valid (roll tape#4 o.q.�there were some early ..earlier than anticipated difficulties. She could have come back to the clinic, that’s what she was told to do. Instead she called 9-1-1, an ambulance picked up and her fetus which she expelled at home..she went to a hospital that used procedures that are not medically recognized as acceptable for estimated gestation of a fetus..they waived placenta that had been soaked in saline solution, and they put the fetus in some type of embalming fluid, and there were numerous other health issues that can affect how the gestation period proceeds�)

This is not the first time that Pendergraft has been involved with the criminal justice system in Florida for his work.

In 2001, local officials in Ocala collaborated with federal prosecutors to shut down Pendergraft on the grounds that he conspired with a colleague to extort money from the government. He received t received a sentence of almost four years in jail and a $25,000 fine. Pendergraft spent seven months in prison before an appeals court overturned his conviction in July 2002.

He later pleaded guilty in 2004 to a single count of accessory after the fact to making false statements

Dr. Pendergraft – an African American, had claimed that local officials had been harassing him and others at his Ocala based clinic.

The suspension of his medical license for the time being is being hailed by pro-life forces. Troy Newman is with Operation Rescue. In a press release, he said, “It is gratifying to see the state of Florida finally take action against Pendergraft. Many states are beginning to realize how dangerous abortion mills really are, and are working to close them in the interest of public safety.

Brandi Brown with Agency for Health Care Administration says agents are investigating Pendergraft’s other clinics in Florida, including the one in Tampa – at this moment (roll tape#6 o.q.’For now the order is in place for 7 days, as of yesterday, but it is subject to extention should we find anything at the clinic that warrants that action�) Dr. Pendergraft’s spokesperson, says he will appeal the decision.

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