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Fla. Health Officials, Clinic Near Settlement Agreement

January 5, 2015 — An administrative law judge has canceled a hearing for a Florida abortion clinic that state officials claim is incorrectly interpreting the definition of second-trimester abortions, the News Service of Florida/Tampa Tribune reports (Menzel, News Service of Florida/Tampa Tribune, 12/31/15).

Background

In July 2015, Florida 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, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration found no fetal tissue law violations, but claimed that three Planned Parenthood facilities in the state 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," or 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 still is seeking a court order clarifying that abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy are legal at the three clinics. Meanwhile, state officials said they would continue to investigate Planned Parenthood.

In September 2015, AHCA issued a $2,500 fine to Gainesville-based Bread and Roses Well Women Care and a $3,000 fine to Plantation-based Aastra Women's Center for allegedly providing abortion services in the second trimester without the appropriate licensure. Aastra Women's Center and Bread and Roses are not affiliated with Planned Parenthood (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/21/15).

Latest Developments

Administrative law Judge John Van Laningham canceled a hearing scheduled for last week after AHCA requested he "relinquish jurisdiction" over the case against Aastra Women's Center.

In a motion filed last month, AHCA Assistant General Counsel John Bradley wrote that AHCA and Aastra "have reached an agreement in concept to resolve this matter and are in the process of executing a settlement agreement," adding, "Should the settlement fail for any reason, each party has the right to file a motion to reopen this matter."

Aastra attorney Julie Gallagher said neither party admitted wrongdoing in the settlement, stating that it "was a business decision" and that the "[f]ines were minimal" compared with the "cost of hearing." She added that AHCA "cannot use the settlement as a basis for any future action ... unless it starts the due process all over again."

Meanwhile, Mallory Deason, communications director at AHCA, said litigation was ongoing and that "there is no executed settlement agreement with Aastra Women's Clinic."

Next Steps

An administrative law judge is set to hear the cases against the Planned Parenthood clinics on Jan. 26 and 27, and a separate judge is set to hear the case against Bread and Roses on March 1 and 2, according to the News Service of Florida/Tampa Tribune (News Service of Florida/Tampa Tribune, 12/31/15).