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Action limits abortion options

By Editorial Staff
Published August 18, 2006

Women might have to travel farther — doctor plans to appeal state’s suspension

By Robyn Shelton, Sentinel Medical Writer

Women seeking an abortion in Central Florida should not have difficulty finding a doctor, although they may have to travel farther now that the state has stopped two Orlando clinics from performing abortions indefinitely.

The two offices, owned by Dr. James Pendergraft, were open Thursday for other services. But the state has suspended Pendergraft’s medical license and barred all five of his clinics in Florida from providing abortions on the grounds that he illegally carried out two third-trimester abortions in 2004 and 2005. The procedures under investigation occurred at his Orlando sites.

Pendergraft’s spokeswoman said he denies any wrongdoing and plans to appeal the state’s actions.

As a result of the restrictions, other abortion clinics in Central Florida reported getting more calls Thursday.

Tammy Sobieski, who owns the Womancare clinics in Orlando and Daytona Beach, said some women might be inconvenienced but that abortion services are still readily available. There are at least five remaining abortion providers in the area, according to data on a state Web site.

“Women with first- or early second-trimester pregnancies are pretty well covered in Central Florida,” said Sobieski, whose clinics perform abortions up to about 16 weeks’ gestation. “It’s women who are later in their pregnancies that may have to travel outside of Central Florida” to get the service.

Many abortion providers do not treat women beyond 18 weeks’ gestation, though there are a limited number of clinics in Florida — including in West Palm Beach, Tampa and Jacksonville — that offer abortions up to 24 weeks’ gestation.

The vast majority of abortions reported to the state in 2004 occurred in the first trimester, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

The department counts a total of 91,710 abortions statewide in 2004 — 82,782 of them involving fetuses 12 weeks and younger. Another 8,918 abortions were performed when fetuses were at 13 to 24 weeks’ gestation. Ten abortions were done in the third trimester at 25 weeks and over.

Of those 10 late-term abortions, four were done in Orange County, according to the state, which does not provide specifics on where the procedures were carried out.

In its actions against Pendergraft, the state claims that the doctor failed to get a second physician’s opinion, as required by law, before performing an abortion on a woman who was 28 weeks pregnant in July 2005. In a 2004 incident, the state claims Pendergraft calculated the age of a woman’s fetus at 22 weeks but it was really between 25 and 27 weeks’ gestation.

Third-trimester abortions are legal in Florida when a woman’s life or health is in danger, but state law requires that they be performed in a hospital unless the procedure is urgently needed and two doctors “certify in writing” that the woman is at risk. According to state documents, Pendergraft carried out the third-trimester abortions without meeting these requirements.

His spokeswoman, Marti Mackenzie, said the woman’s life was in danger in 2005 and that Pendergraft disputes the age estimation of the fetus in the 2004 incident. She characterized the state’s actions as another in a “series of onslaughts” targeting Pendergraft.


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