The City Agreed In Court To Let A Doctor Do First-trimester Abortions. The Issue Of Second-trimester Abortions Is Pending
By Dan Tracy of The Sentinel Staff
After fighting with a Maryland doctor for nearly five months, Orlando officials agreed in federal court Thursday to allow him to perform first-trimester abortions in a building near downtown.
Still to be decided is whether Dr. James Pendergraft can terminate second-trimester pregnancies at his practice, which will open at 1103 Lucerne Terrace, a half-mile south of City Hall.
The Orlando Women’s Clinic should open within 10 days, said Pendergraft’s attorney, Jacob Rose. “Dr. Pendergraft is starving,” Rose said.
Pendergraft, a 38-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist, still is seeking nearly $1 million in damages from the city for lost wages and expenses.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett is expected to rule within two weeks on whether Orlando owes money to Pendergraft and on the type of abortions he can perform.
The decision likely will hinge on how much time Fawsett thinks a woman must remain in a doctor’s care after undergoing a second-trimester abortion.
The city contends a physician must monitor a woman for 90 minutes or more; Pendergraft says about 50 minutes. Women who have abortions during the first trimester, the city and Pendergraft agree, need less than an hour with a doctor. That’s why the city is now agreeing to allow him to perform first-trimester abortions.
The recovery time is crucial because city rules say 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.
Pendergraft intends to practice in a building he purchased for $250,000 in an area zoned only for offices and residences.
After reviewing his request last fall, city officials decided Pendergraft would be running a clinic. That meant he had to have what’s called a conditional-use permit to open.
The city refused to issue Pendergraft the license after property owners on Lucerne Terrace complained, saying an abortion practice would attract protesters and ruin real-estate values on their street.
Pendergraft responded by filing suit in federal court in Orlando, seeking monetary damages and the right to open. He said he has been losing $35,000 a week.
Fawsett held a preliminary hearing in January but did not rule because she wanted additional information from Pendergraft and the city.
Also in January, Pendergraft pleaded his case before a hearing officer hired by the city for $85 an hour to mediate disputes. Attorney David Coffey of Gainesville eventually sided with Pendergraft, saying he should be allowed to open.
In a written statement, Coffey said Pendergraft would be operating an “office” and that both first- and second-trimester abortions called for recovery times of less than an hour.
On Monday the City Council rejected Coffey’s recommendation and refused to issue a license to Pendergraft, saying he would be running a clinic.