City Fought For Months To Keep Facility Away
By Dan Tracy of The Sentinel Staff
A Maryland doctor on Thursday opened a practice near downtown where he will perform abortions, less than a week after Orlando officials reluctantly gave him an occupational license.
Although his office is being remodeled, Dr. James Scott Pendergraft is scheduling appointments for services ranging from pregnancy tests to abortions.
The city tried to stop Pendergraft’s venture for almost six months before agreeing in U.S. District Court last week that the 38-year-old obstetrician-gynecologist could offer first-trimester abortions.
That concession came after the city acknowledged the recovery time for terminating a pregnancy during the early weeks was less than one hour, allowing Pendergraft’s business at 1103 Lucerne Terrace to meet local zoning laws.
Still to be decided in federal court is whether Pendergraft can end second-trimester pregnancies and if he is entitled to monetary damages for lost wages and legal fees of as much as $1 million from the city.
It is not known when federal Judge Patricia Fawsett will decide those issues.
Pendergraft is confident he will prevail, as well as win a large award, because he is convinced the city is trying to stop a legal activity, abortion.
“It was obvious from the beginning that this was all about abortion and the people in power did not want another facility for abortions,” said Pendergraft, who will commute from Maryland to Orlando to operate his practice.
Although he expected some resistance from anti-abortion activists, Pendergraft said he was surprised at how hard the city has fought him. “I knew there would be some disgruntlement, but after a while you expect people to say, ‘Dr. Pendergraft is not going to stop.’ I feel I am right and the law is behind me,” he said.
Orlando’s opposition to Pendergraft, said city spokesman Joe Mittiga, was strictly a land-use issue and nothing more.
City zoning experts said Pendergraft is operating a “clinic” in an area set aside for medical offices and residences.
They based that classification on rules saying a medical “clinic” offers procedures where patients might require several hours of recovery, as opposed to a doctor’s “office,” where clients leave within 60 minutes.
Second-trimester abortions, city officials said, often cause the patient to remain in a doctor’s care for more than an hour, a contention Pendergraft disputes.
Although Pendergraft is not certain how many abortions he might perform in Orlando, he has estimated in writing that the number could average 56 per week.
His abortion rates, excluding tests and medications, go from $250 to $2,000, depending on how many months the woman has been pregnant, City Hall records indicate.