by Steven Ertelt
August 22, 2006
Orlando, FL (LifeNews.com) — The Orlando Women’s Center abortion facility run by embattled abortion practitioner James Scott Pendergraft isn’t supposed to be doing abortions. The state health department suspended abortions there last week after saying he did two illegal late-term abortions in violation of state law. But abortions may still be happening there.
Florida officials suspended abortions at Pendergraft’s two abortion facilities in Orlando, including the Women’s Center and temporarily halted abortions at three other abortion centers in the state.
The state suspended Pendergraft’s medical license last Wednesday in an emergency order that says he showed a "flagrant disregard for the laws of the state of Florida and a willingness to endanger the lives and health of pregnant patients."
However, Patte Smith of Sanctuary Ministries tells LifeNews.com she called the Orlando Women’s Center pretending to be interested in setting up an appointment for an abortion. To her shock, staff there began making arrangements with her to have one.
Smith called OWC Monday morning and spoke with a staffer who told her she could see an abortion practitioner to obtain an ultrasound of her "pregnancy" at a Tuesday morning appointment.
The staff member told Smith the cost would be $150 and to call back Tuesday morning to find the specific time to come to the abortion facility.
Smith tells LifeNews.com she called back this morning and was given a variety of options for an appointment for an abortion.
The staff member "gave me an abortion appointment for Monday, August 28th at 9 a.m.," Smith told LifeNews.com and "offered me abortion appointments for all the other days of the week next week."
The OWC staffer told Smith the abortion would cost $440, she was offered various choices for anesthesia, and told she had to make the payment with cash, credit card or a money order.
Smith told LifeNews.com she reported the incident to the local branch of the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) in Orlando.
"The AHCA field office manager in Orlando, Joel Libby, told me that Orlando Women’s Center is still under a moratorium and is not allowed to offer abortions," Smith said.
She indicated Libby advised her to contact the hotline in Tallahassee (888-419-3456) and give them detailed information about the abortion appointment. Smith called and filed a complaint there and told LifeNews.com that Libby later told her the agency would investigate "in the near future."
In the two illegal abortions Florida officials say he did, Pendergraft failed to get a second opinion from a physician before doing an abortion in July 2005 on a woman who was 28 weeks pregnant. That abortion took place on a baby with severe physical deformities at OWC.
Florida law says late-term abortions are only legal to protect the life or health of the mother and not in cases when the unborn baby has physical or mental handicaps. Such abortions must be done in a hospital unless two physicians certify in writing that the abortion is needed right away to save the woman’s life.
Pendergraft spokeswoman Marti Mackenzie told the Sun-Sentinel that the woman’s life was in danger in that case and that she was sent to Pendergraft for the abortion by two doctors who had previously examined her. She indicated the woman was told by an unnamed hospital that she couldn’t have the abortion there.
"People sought him out because of his expertise so she could have this necessary termination as quickly as possible," Mackenzie told the newspaper. "I strongly maintain that not only is [Pendergraft] not a danger to women, he is their only salvation in these cases."
Later in the day, Mackenzie told the Associated Press that Pendergraft hoped to appeal the suspensions and get a court to lift them. She indicated the appeal would be filed with the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.
She claimed he was "the target of government agencies determined to limit the access of Florida women to safe and legal late term abortions."
The state also took actions against Pendergraft over a 2004 abortion in which he said a woman was 22 weeks pregnant. He gave her a drug to take at home to initiative contractions and begin the abortion.
The woman ended up having the abortion at home before she could go back to the abortion center and a hospital later estimated the age of the baby at 25 to 27 weeks, according to the newspaper.
The state said Pendergraft "endangered two female patients by performing third-trimester abortions outside a hospital setting and without concurring certification from a second physician."
Mackenzie said Pendergraft disputes the findings on the age of the baby.
A representative of the Agency for Health Care Administration told the Orlando newspaper that Pendergraft’s two abortion centers there are prohibited "indefinitely" from doing abortions while the other three, in Tampa, Ocala and Fort Lauderdale, could resume doing abortions next week.
AHCA spokeswoman Brandi Brown said "The clinics can do regular gynecological visits with patients … but they cannot perform any new abortions."
She also told AP, "They can do any post-operative procedures on anyone who had an abortion before the order went into effect."
Mackenzie said women scheduled for abortions would be referred elsewhere.
Pendergraft will not be able to practice medicine until the Florida Board of Medicine reviews his case.
This isn’t the first time Pendergraft has been in trouble with the law.
He was convicted in 2001 over a lawsuit he and an associate filed against Marion County.
The suit claimed the abortion business wasn’t given proper protection from threats of violence but county officials told the court the lawsuit was part of an extortion plot in which the county would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pendergraft.
Pendergraft received a sentence of three years and 10 months in prison but was released after just seven months when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction.
He admitted in federal court that he obstructed justice by supporting a business associate he knew was lying and hoped to get money from local officials by claiming pro-life advocates were threatening him and his business.
Also, in 2005, a woman filed a lawsuit against one of Pendergraft‘s abortion facilities saying it refused to call emergency personnel to help her or her baby, born on the second day of a two-day abortion procedure.
They charged Harry Perper, the abortion practitioner who began the abortion process, and Pendergraft with violating state law.
Attorneys for the law firm Liberty Counsel, who represented the woman, said a doctor should have been present during the second day of the abortion procedure. They say abortion business staff failed to provide adequate care and they cite unsanitary conditions at the facility.
Related web sites:
Florida Health Department Info