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Ocala Resists Abortion Clinic, 3/1/1998

By Editorial Staff
Published March 1, 1998

A Doctor Who Won $325,000 From Orlando Over A Zoning Dispute Hopes To Open A Clinic In Ocala By Year’s End

By David Damron of The Sentinel Staff

OCALA — The last clinic to perform abortions in this community was firebombed twice in 10 days – and quit providing them.

Now, almost a decade later, Dr. James Scott Pendergraft IV is determined to bring abortions back to Ocala, a city of 60,000 teeming with activists and politicians opposed to abortion rights.

Two years ago, the Maryland doctor faced down Orlando officials who tried to use city-zoning laws to prevent second-trimester abortions at his Lucerne Terrace Orlando Women’s Center.

Pendergraft, 40, took the zoning fight to court and won a $325,000 settlement from the city.

In Ocala, opponents wrote letters to Pendergraft asking him to stay away after he bought a vacant building near downtown and started gathering permits and licenses for an abortion clinic, which he hopes to open by year’s end.

Twenty-five years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Pendergraft said he wants to eliminate the dangers illegal abortions posed to women.

“People are going to have abortions,” he said. “Roe vs. Wade didn’t increase that. All it’s done is make them safer for women to have. I just want to make sure we continue to keep maternal mortality down.”

Pendergraft noted the clinic will provide other services, including Pap smears and birth control.

For women in Marion, Lake and Sumter counties, the nearest abortion clinics are an hour or more away in Daytona Beach,Gainesville and Orlando.

That’s as close as Marion County Commission Chairman Randy Harris wants abortion clinics to his hometown.

Harris created the “Choose Life” vehicle license plate, a pro-adoption fund-raising plan pending in the Florida Legislature.

He may not be able to stop Pendergraft, who already has a certificate of occupancy and an occupational license.

If the clinic does open, Harris said, he’s not worried about a repeat of the unsolved 1989 firebombings at the All Women’s Health Center in Ocala, in which no one was injured. When the clinic reopened several months later, abortions were out.

“I personally do not condone that type of violence,” Harris said. “But I don’t think anyone in Ocala or Marion County was terribly upset when that happened. Actually, it was quite a relief to many of us when they stopped performing abortions.”

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