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Planned Parenthood V. AHCA Abortion Fight Heads To Court

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Planned Parenthood Florida
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit Planned Parenthood Florida
The Florida Channel

The fight between Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration and Planned Parenthood ramped up this week with a lawsuit.  The state says three planned parenthood Florida clinics admit to performed abortions outside the scope of their licenses, but the clinics insist they did nothing wrong.

Of the 16 planned parenthood clinics in Florida that perform abortions, three are limited to first trimester procedures. The state claims those locations primarily in Southwest Florida, self-reported they performed some abortions outside their first trimester limit. The procedures in question occurred at week 13. The fight centers on what the rules say. State regulations define the first trimester as 12 weeks. Those first 12 weeks are further defined as the first 14 weeks after the first missed menstrual cycle.

“The way physicians and the medical community count pregnancy…they always start at the date of the last menstrual period—and that’s how they count and measure gestation," said Julie Gallagher former general counsel for the Agency for Healthcare Administration and now Planned Parenthood of Central and Southwest Florida attorney. "So when you reach 12 weeks pregnancy, they’re referring to a 14 week period of time—and the first twelve weeks equals weeks of time.”

The rules also appear to overlap in their definitions of a trimester. Planned Parenthood of Central and Southwest Florida is suing to block the state from imposing any penalties on the clinics. But AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek doubled down on her assertion the 13-week abortions were unlicensed:

“If you look at the definition of second trimester, and what they reported as number of weeks of gestational age, I’d go back to them and ask them what they reported," Dudek recently told reporters.

What was reported were first trimester abortions performed between 13 and 13.5 weeks, with Planned Parenthood Florida clinic managers stating they believe the first trimester extends to 13.6 weeks.

AHCA attorneys wrote a letter to planned parenthood Florida, appearing to acknowledge the 14-week cap on first trimesters. In that letter, AHCA said the clinics in question did nothing wrong. But a day later, the agency back-tracked, and reiterated its claim those procedures were unlicensed.

“Here It appears it could be a situation where AHCA is interpreting one part of the rule but not the other portion," said Jacksonville-based administrative law attorney Tad Delegal. He says while he’s not familiar with the overall issue- it appears AHCA is using what’s called a non-rule policy:

“If they’re not giving credit to the 14 week provision, they are. If they’re creating just sort of a hard and fast 12-week rule without regard to the 14 week portion of it, then it would appear they’re violating the rule of creating a non-rule policy."

That’s what Planned Parenthood Florida has accused the state of doing.

Governor Rick Scott ordered inspections of all Florida abortion clinics after heavily edited, undercover videos showed planned parenthood officials discussing the transfer of donated fetal tissue for research. Planned Parenthood federation of America President Cecile Richards defended the organization in a video statement released last month.

Richards also apologizes for the tone of a staff member in one of the videos discussed the donation process.  The videos, released by the anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress, have renewed calls for planned parenthood to be de-funded.  

In response, inspections of planned parenthood clinics were ordered 12 Republican-led states, including Florida. They are Tennessee, Massachusetts, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina.  Meanwhile,  the videos continue to be released.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.