Abortion Clinics Face Licensure Loss After Doctor's Arrest
Four Florida abortion clinics --- two in Orlando and one each in Ocala and Fort Lauderdale --- face the potential loss of their licenses following the arrest of a physician the state says has an "ownership interest" in them.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration filed administrative complaints last month against EPOC Clinic LLC in Orlando, Orlando Women's Center LLC, Ocala Women's Center LLC and Fort Lauderdale Women's Center LLC.
"This is an administrative action to revoke the respondent's licenses to operate a clinical laboratory and an abortion clinic," the complaints said.
The clinics are challenging the agency, with cases filed last week in the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Administrative law judges have scheduled hearings in April in three of the cases, according to online dockets.
All four clinics are associated with physician James Pendergraft, who performs abortions. Pendergraft was arrested in South Carolina in October for what the state described in the administrative complaints as "drug related offenses."
The Agency for Health Care Administration delivered the complaints to the clinics on Jan. 19 and 20. The complaints did not give details of Pendergraft's arrest, and an AHCA spokeswoman said the arrest records were confidential.
However, the complaints state that Pendergraft can no longer pass a Level 2 background check due to the arrest, so he no longer qualifies for his "ownership interest" in the clinics.
The complaints also said the clinics are responsible for ensuring that "vulnerable persons" are not exposed to employees who are unable to pass a Level 2 background check.
"According to the respondent's license files, James Pendergraft owns more than 5 percent of the respondent and is the financial officer of the respondent," each complaint said. "As an owner and controlling interest of the respondent, Mr. Pendergraft was required at all times to maintain a satisfactory Level 2 background screening result. With his arrest and pending criminal charges, Mr. Pendergraft is disqualified and is no longer in compliance with Florida law."
An attorney for the clinics, Frederick T. Lowe of Tampa, responded Feb. 1 to the complaints, denying that Pendergraft "owns and/or controls 5 percent or more" of the clinics.
Reached by telephone, Lowe said Thursday he could not discuss the case without his client's permission.
"It looks like we're going to settle it," he said.
The Agency for Health Care Administration also has been embroiled in recent months in legal battles with other abortion clinics over allegations that the clinics performed second-trimester abortions without having proper licenses. Four challenges filed by clinics remain pending in the Division of Administrative Hearings, while another case was settled.