Doctor Seeking Abortion Office Gets Hearing

The Hearing Officer Will Make A Recommendation To The Orlando City Council On Whether To Open The Office.

By Dan Tracy of The Sentinel Staff

Less than two weeks after arguing in federal court that Orlando should allow him to open a practice where abortions would be performed, a Maryland doctor on Tuesday went to City Hall to make the same claim.

This time, Dr. James Pendergraft made his case to a city-appointed hearing officer, who has up to 45 days to make a recommendation to the Orlando City Council.

Council members can accept or reject the suggestion of attorney David Coffey.

By that time, however, U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett may have decided the issue.

She listened Jan. 5 to Pendergraft and the city spar over his proposed business but did not rule because she wanted more information. Those documents are supposed to be in her possession by Friday, although she has not indicated when she will issue a ruling.

At issue in federal court as well as the administrative hearing is Pendergraft’s contention that the city violated his constitutional right to due process by refusing to give him an occupational license.

Last October, Pendergraft bought a colonial-style brick building at 1103 Lucerne Terrace for $250,000, according to Orange County property records.

Shortly before his purchase, Orlando approved, then revoked, a zoning request that would have allowed Pendergraft to open among a cluster of medical offices and residences.

Intending to open Dec. 1, Pendergraft was granted the temporary acceptance by changing the description of his enterprise from a “clinic” to an “office.”

City Hall defines a clinic by saying it offers procedures where patients might require several hours of recovery, as opposed to offices, where clients leave within 60 minutes.

Much of Tuesday’s hearing was dedicated to discussing recovery times, with Pendergraft and a Tampa abortion clinic administrator testifying most patients leave no more than 25 minutes after the procedure.

But the city flew in a physician from Texas who said women who abort during the second trimester usually need one to two hours of observation before leaving.

Under questioning by Pendergraft, Noreen Johnson, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said she stopped performing abortions in 1986 after becoming a Christian.

Pendergraft, a 38-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist, intends to perform second-trimester abortions.

The hearing likely will end today.

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