Florida’s GOP Administration Targets Two Abortion Providers After Failed Investigation

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Florida’s GOP Administration Targets Two Abortion Providers After Failed Investigation

Teddy Wilson

The sanctions come in the wake of revelations that the administration edited a state agency press release about the results of an investigation into Planned Parenthood, and the resignation soon thereafter of the agency’s top communications official.

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

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is moving forward with sanctioning two more abortion providers, unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood, with identical charges to those it alleged against three Planned Parenthood affiliated clinics.

The sanctions come in the wake of revelations that the administration edited a state agency press release about the results of an investigation into Planned Parenthood, and the resignation soon thereafter of the agency’s top communications official.

Scott said 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. CMP has released the attack videos in coordination with GOP legislators.

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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 investigate Florida’s 16 Planned Parenthood facilities that perform abortion procedures to ensure they were in full compliance with the law.

The Scott administration is now moving forward with identical charges against two other clinics, however, no press release or statement was issued from the governor’s office regarding the sanctions.

The Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center in Gainesville and the Aastra Women’s Center in Plantation have both received citations from the state for illegally providing second-trimester abortion services, reported the Miami Herald.

Julie Gallagher, who represents Aastra and the three Planned Parenthood clinics facing sanctions, told the Miami Herald that the state has changed the definition of the regulations that it enforces.

“The addition of the new term ‘weeks of gestation’ that is calculated somehow differently than ‘weeks LMP’—and is in fact some kind of different date—is evidence that they’re making it up as they go along,” Gallagher said.

Bob Weiss, an attorney representing Bread and Roses, told the Miami Herald that the agency had conducted regular inspections based on the “14 weeks since LMP” definition for years.

“As I understand it from talking to our client, that’s always the way that it’s been interpreted and always the way that they maintained their records,” he said. “This would appear to represent a change in position.”

Bread and Roses will reportedly file a response to the complaint next week and will contest the fines and a corrective action plan. The Aastra Women’s Center and Planned Parenthood have both already done so.

No evidence was found this summer that fetal tissue was being sold illegally in Florida after the Scott administration’s investigation into Planned Parenthood facilities across Florida.

The AHCA issued a press release on August 5 that an investigation had allegedly discovered three Planned Parenthood clinics were performing second-trimester abortions and the agency had ordered the health centers to stop providing them after ascertaining they didn’t have the proper licenses.

Top officials working in Scott’s office rewrote the agency’s press release and deleted any mention that Planned Parenthood had been cleared by the investigation of “mishandling of fetal remains.”

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.”

AHCA communications director Katherine Riviere questioned why the press release was changed. “I would have thought a line on no evidence of mishandling of fetal remains would be included as that’s what questions will be on,” Riviere wrote in an email to Scott and ACHA senior staff before the news release was published.

Two weeks after the Scott administration issued the edited report, Riviere resigned her position.

“Katherine resigned on her own terms, she was not forced out,” AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman told BuzzFeed News. “Her resignation letter speaks for itself.”

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida filed a lawsuit on August 17 requesting an emergency injunction to block the agencies’ efforts to sanction the clinics.

AHCA claimed that three Planned Parenthood clinics, 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 clinics’ license.

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

It is standard medical practice to define the first trimester as the completion of 14 weeks of pregnancy, measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. The ACHA adopted this standard definition in 2006, but the agency’s policy has apparently changed without notice.

“The state of Florida’s own records from nearly a decade ago confirm that Planned Parenthood is following the law, and nothing has changed,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following the filing of the lawsuit.

Two days after the lawsuit was filed, AHCA general counsel Stuart Williams sent a letter to Planned Parenthood conceding that the state’s definition of the first trimester includes 14 weeks from the last menstrual period. Planned Parenthood dropped its request for an injunction and has resumed performing later first-trimester abortions at the facilities in question.

The letter claimed that “based on the information self-reported by Planned Parenthood abortions were illegally performed during the second trimester.” Planned Parenthood vice president of communications Eric Ferrero told The Hill that AHCA’s claim is “ridiculous” and “politically motivated.”

Republican lawmakers in states around the country have called for investigations and hearings into the Planned Parenthood in response to the secretly recorded and deceptively edited CMP videos, but to date none have uncovered any evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken any laws with regard to fetal tissue.