Dr. James Pendergraft asks for a review of claims he performed late-term abortions.
By Robyn Shelton, Sentinel Medical Writer
The owner of two Orlando abortion clinics asked a state court Tuesday to reinstate his medical license and review a state agency’s claims that he illegally performed third-trimester abortions.
In his appeal to the 1st District Court in Tallahassee, Dr. James Pendergraft asserts that the Florida Department of Health acted on “downright incorrect information” when it suspended his license earlier this month for two abortions in 2004 and 2005.
Pendergraft’s petition says the state’s real intent is to cause him “professional embarrassment and negative publicity” as well as “maximum disruption of services to patients.”
A spokesman for the Health Department said the agency could not comment because officials did not have time to review the petition.
Pendergraft’s spokeswoman, Marti Mackenzie, said the doctor hoped the court would lift the restrictions quickly. In addition to the license suspension, the state Agency for Health Care Administration is prohibiting all of Pendergraft’s five clinics statewide from performing abortions.
Mackenzie said the doctor’s lawyers are preparing separate appeals for the restrictions on each clinic. In anticipation of the orders being lifted, at least one of his Orlando offices on Tuesday was booking appointments for abortions next week.
Pendergraft owns EPOC Clinic on Virginia Drive and Orlando Women’s Center on Lucerne Terrace in addition to offices in Tampa, Ocala and Fort Lauderdale.
The state alleges that Pendergraft was involved in two illegal third-trimester abortions. In the first instance in November 2004, Pendergraft incorrectly evaluated a woman to be 22 to 23 weeks’ pregnant when she was really at 25 to 27 weeks’ gestation, according to state documents. In the second instance, the state says Pendergraft carried out an abortion on a 28-week-old fetus in July 2005.
The state asserts that both procedures were illegal under Florida laws requiring all third-trimester abortions to be performed in a hospital, and that two doctors must certify in writing that the procedure is needed because the woman’s life or health is in danger.
Mackenzie said Pendergraft says neither abortion involved a third-trimester pregnancy.
Last week, Mackenzie said Pendergraft disputed the third-trimester claims of the November 2004 abortion. But she did not take issue with the state’s findings that he had performed a third-trimester abortion in the July 2005 case, defending that action because the woman’s life was in danger.
On Tuesday, however, she said the doctor now denies that the July 2005 case was a third-trimester abortion.
“Subsequent close scrutiny of the patient’s record reveals the procedure was performed at 24 weeks and six days — a second-trimester termination,” Mackenzie said.