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Doctor May Take City To Court Over Abortion Center

By Editorial Staff
Published November 16, 1995

By Dan Tracy of The Sentinel Staff

A Maryland doctor hoping to perform abortions in Orlando spent $250,000 for a building last month and may go to court to try to force the city to approve his practice.

City officials twice have turned down Dr. James Pendergraft’s request to open a facility near downtown where he would end pregnancies.

“He wants to provide a much-needed medical service,” said Marti MacKenzie, an Orlando public relations person acting as a spokeswoman for Pendergraft.

Last week the city issued, then revoked, a permit allowing Pendergraft to open his business among a cluster of medical offices and residences at 1103 Lucerne Terrace.

He won the short-lived sanction by changing the way he described his enterprise from a “clinic” to an “office.” That allowed him to meet city zoning requirements.

Clinics, by city definition, offer procedures where patients might require several hours of recovery, as opposed to offices, where clients leave within an hour.

But the city reversed itself, partly at the urging of an abortion opponent who produced literature saying women terminating second-trimester pregnancies usually require more than an hour to recuperate.

City officials responded by asking Pendergraft for more information. He will not comply, MacKenzie said.

“Every single one of those questions has already been answered fully,” she said.

Pendergraft, 38, previously provided the city with five affidavits from two doctors and three clinic managers saying women undergoing an abortion typically recover within 30 minutes, or well within Orlando’s limit.

The doctor, MacKenzie said, likely will go to either federal or state court, asking for an injunction against the city to allow his practice to open. The date is uncertain.

“The city has acted in bad faith,” she said.

Orlando, Assistant City Attorney Jean Burnett said, is not aware of Pendergraft’s intentions. “It’s been real quiet,” she said.

Deborah Shearer, director of the Respect Life office of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, was not surprised Pendergraft might file suit.

“It’s probably the logical next step. His options are pretty narrowed,” said Shearer, who has fought the opening of Pendergraft’s practice. Orlando first blocked Pendergraft, an obstetrician and gynecologist, from opening two months ago by denying him a conditional use permit.

He needed that document because he sought to open what he said was a clinic in an area just south of City Hall reserved for medical offices and homes.

Last month, Pendergraft bought a colonial-style brick building on Lucerne Terrace for $250,000, according to Orange County property records. Excluding Pendergraft’s proposal, greater Orlando has three abortion clinics.


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