Lawsuit: Florida Regulators Take ‘Unprecedented’ Step to Disrupt Abortion Services

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Lawsuit: Florida Regulators Take ‘Unprecedented’ Step to Disrupt Abortion Services

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Attorneys for three Planned Parenthood facilities targeted by Florida regulators for operating beyond their licensure claim the move is an unprecedented political attack.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida asked a judge for an emergency injunction Monday to block what advocates claim are efforts by local regulators to disrupt abortion services at three of its facilities.

The complaint centers around facilities in St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers, and Naples that the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) claims improperly performed second-trimester abortions. AHCA is the licensing and regulatory agency responsible for overseeing health-care facilities in the state, including abortion clinics.

As alleged in the complaint, the AHCA inspected all 16 Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida following the release of heavily edited videos by anti-choice activists that describe the process of donating fetal tissue for medical research. The agency cited three clinics for unlawfully performing second-trimester abortions, a charge attorneys for Planned Parenthood vigorously deny.

At the heart of the fight between Planned Parenthood and state regulators is the definition of first trimester. In 2006, for purposes of regulating abortion clinics, AHCA proposed a rule to define first trimester as ending at 12 weeks’ gestation, according to the complaint.

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Medical community standards routinely define first trimester as the completion of 14 weeks of pregnancy, measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. Because clinicians typically date a pregnancy from the last menstrual period, which in a normal menstrual cycle occurs about two weeks before fertilization, a pregnancy dated in menstrual weeks is generally two weeks longer than a pregnancy dated in weeks from likely fertilization.

Thus the medical community commonly defines the first trimester of pregnancy as extending through the completion of 14 menstrual weeks, or, put another way, the passage of the first 14 weeks from the date of the last normal menstrual period.

Because ACHA’s 2006 rule conflicted with established medical standards, Planned Parenthood was able to successfully challenge the agency’s proposed definition. ACHA amended the definition of first trimester to read “[t]he first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the first 14 completed weeks from the last menstrual period).”

The agency adopted that definition in September 2006 and has not amended it since.

AHCA reached the conclusion that the Planned Parenthood facilities were performing second-trimester abortions by deeming procedures in seven sampled patient records, performed at gestational ages documented as greater than 12 weeks gestational age but less than 14 weeks, according to the complaint filed Monday.

Deeming these procedures second-trimester abortions is an “unprecedented change of position” by the agency, said Planned Parenthood.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood allege the agency “imposed a new and unpublished definition of first trimester procedures upon Plaintiff, despite having agreed to, and adopted by rule, the definition used and followed by Plaintiff (in accordance with the agency’s rule) for nearly ten years with Defendant’s explicit approval.”

“The allegation that Planned Parenthood is performing procedures that we aren’t licensed to is completely false. The state of Florida’s own records from nearly a decade ago confirm that Planned Parenthood is following the law, and nothing has changed,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following the filing of the lawsuit.

“Nearly a decade ago, state officials made it clear that Planned Parenthood is operating fully within the law, and nothing has changed. The state’s actions are patently disingenuous and constitute a wholly unwarranted political attack,” Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement. “AHCA’s claim that any Planned Parenthood health centers, including the health centers cited in St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers and Naples, are performing procedures we are not licensed to perform is simply false.”

A hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction has not yet been scheduled.