Florida Officials Changed Press Releases That Cleared Planned Parenthood of Wrongdoing

Emails from Gov. Rick Scott’s communications director reportedly show that officials deleted any mention that no evidence was found of Planned Parenthood's alleged mishandling of fetal remains.

Emails from Gov. Rick Scott’s communications director reportedly show that officials deleted any mention that no evidence was found of Planned Parenthood's alleged mishandling of fetal remains. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

When the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration’s (AHCA) investigation into Planned Parenthood concluded there was no “mishandling of fetal remains” at clinics affiliated with the organization, top officials working in Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s office rewrote the agency’s press release and deleted any mention that Planned Parenthood had been cleared by the investigation, according to reporting by Politico.

Investigations based on a series of heavily edited videos featuring secretly recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood officials have been unable to uncover any evidence of wrongdoing by the organization. Planned Parenthood has repeatedly claimed that the investigations have been politically motivated, and new revelations appear to confirm that a political agenda was at play—at least in Florida.

Scott made an announcement on July 29 that the state would investigate Planned Parenthood facilities that provide abortion services in response to videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice organization behind a series of videos spreading misinformation about Planned Parenthood’s policies and practices concerning fetal tissue donation.

Scott said in a statement that the CMP videos were “deeply troubling,” and that he was directing Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Liz Dudek to begin evaluation of the 16 Planned Parenthood facilities in the state that perform abortion procedures to ensure they are in full compliance with the law.

“If a Planned Parenthood office is not following the law, we will move quickly to take legal and regulatory action against them,” Scott said. “We hold our healthcare organizations in Florida to the highest standards of safety and we expect them to fully comply with the law at all times.”

AHCA officials reportedly completed their investigation of the clinics; the inspections were conducted on July 29-31.

Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement that the organization would be fully cooperative, but that the investigation was “politically motivated,” reported the Miami Herald.

Goodhue told Politico in an email that she was not surprised by the revelations.

“The fact is Governor Rick Scott is playing politics with women’s health by orchestrating this attack on a trusted health care provider,” Goodhue said. “Planned Parenthood has always adhered to the highest ethical guidelines and standards of medicine.”

Emails between the governor’s office and AHCA, obtained by Politico through a public records request, reportedly show that the agency had prepared a press release stating that “there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.”

Emails from Scott’s communications director, Jackie Schutz, reportedly show that officials from the governor’s office rewrote the press release and deleted any mention that no evidence was found of mishandling of fetal remains.

State officials inserted into the press release that physicians who worked at the clinics would be referred by the AHCA to the Board of Medicine for possible disciplinary action.

A press release issued by the AHCA on August 5 stated that the agency had found “issues with the record keeping of fetal remains at one clinic and unlicensed procedures being performed at three clinics.”

The AHCA alleged that it discovered three Planned Parenthood clinics were performing second-trimester abortions and ordered the health centers to stop providing them after ascertaining they didn’t have the proper licenses.

The clinic inspection forms, which have been removed from the AHCA website, noted the Planned Parenthood director of compliance and quality was called by an AHCA official for a separate interview just hours before the press release was issued. Notes from that interview show that the Planned Parenthood official said that the second trimester begins after 13 weeks and six days of gestation.

The AHCA claims that the three clinics in question, located in Fort Myers, Naples, and St. Petersburg, were performing second-trimester abortions, citing Florida Administrative Code 59A-9.019.

The inspection forms cite the definition of the second trimester of pregnancy as “following the 12th week and extending through the 24th week of gestation” as the reason for why abortions performed by the clinics from 13 weeks and two days to 13 weeks and six days violate the scope of the clinic’s license.

The inspection forms omitted the definition of the first trimester of a pregnancy, which is defined under Florida Administrative Code 59A-9.019 as the “first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the first 14 completed weeks from the last normal menstrual period).”

“I can state unequivocally that all of our health centers are operating in full compliance with Florida law as well as best practices in reproductive health care,” Goodhue told the Tampa Bay Times. “The claim that any of our health centers are performing procedures we are not licensed to perform is false and seemingly stems from AHCA flip-flopping on their own rules and definitions of gestational periods.”

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida filed a lawsuit last month requesting an emergency injunction to block the AHCA from imposing a “new and unpublished definition” of first trimester abortion procedures.

“Nearly a decade ago, state officials made it clear that Planned Parenthood is operating fully within the law, and nothing has changed. The state’s actions are patently disingenuous and constitute a wholly unwarranted political attack,” Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement.

The emails obtained by Politico reportedly show that Planned Parenthood attempted to negotiate a compromise with the AHCA, and reach an agreement on abortion procedure reporting requirements in an attempt to avoid litigation. Planned Parenthood filed the lawsuit after no agreement could be reached.

Florida regulators backed down just days after the lawsuit was filed, when the agency conceded in a letter to Planned Parenthood that its definition of the first trimester includes 14 weeks from the last menstrual period.

“Based on the information self-reported by Planned Parenthood abortions were illegally performed during the second trimester at the three clinics at issue, and our investigation will continue,” the AHCA letter stated, reported The Hill.