Doctor To City: Let’s End Fight

Dr. James Pendergraft Is Seeking Damages After Winning The Right To Perform Second-trimester Abortions In Orlando.

By Sherri M. Owens of The Sentinel Staff

An abortion doctor who this week won one legal battle against the city of Orlando said he doesn’t want the next fight to end in court.

Dr. James Pendergraft, who received the OK Thursday from a federal judge to perform late-term abortions, wants to settle his lawsuit against the city out of court.

“I didn’t come to create a fight,” the obstetrician and gynecologist said Friday. “It’s time for healing and forgiveness.”

The city has yet to decide its next step. Mayor Glenda Hood said Friday that city lawyers were studying the options.

Pendergraft has asked in a lawsuit for up to $1 million in damages for lost wages and attorney fees. The Maryland doctor has been battling the city for about seven months.

The city had allowed him to perform first-trimester abortions at the Orlando Women’s Center, 1103 Lucerne Terrace. Second-trimester abortions, the city said, required a recovery of 90 minutes or more, making the facility a clinic in an area zoned for medical offices and homes.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett disagreed, writing in her order released Friday that “the more credible evidence” shows normal observation and recovery time for second-trimester abortions is less than one hour.

“This was an abortion issue,” said Pendergraft, 38. “There were also probably some political issues behind the city’s position.”

Fawsett also ruled that the city was “arbitrary and capricious” in its refusal to allow Pendergraft to perform abortions. The ruling will allow him to terminate pregnancies as far along as 23 weeks.

In addition, the judge wrote, “The (Orlando City) Council had reached the decision that it did not want Dr. Pendergraft to open his facility . . . before the hearing began and then searched for a method to deny (his) applications. The city denied his application without the substantial justification required by law.”

Hood said it’s an instance of federal law and individual rights prevailing over home rule and community standards.

“Ordinances are put in place because the community has made (those) decisions,” she said.

Fawsett’s ruling gives women in Orlando and surrounding communities easier access to a service previously not provided legally in Central Florida, court records show.

“Women in this community had to commute to Tampa to get second-term abortions done,” Pendergraft said. “I see this as a victory for myself and for the women of Orlando.”

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