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South Florida abortion clinic fights state fine

Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Ala., shown here in 2014.
Brynn Anderson
Reproductive Health Services, shown here in 2014, is a Montgomery, Ala., clinic that performs abortions and is the plaintiff in this federal lawsuit.

A South Florida abortion clinic is fighting an attempt by state regulators to impose a $41,000 fine over allegations that the clinic did not show that it provided required information to women at least 24 hours before abortions.

The Hialeah clinic, A GYN Diagnostic Center, is challenging the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration in the state Division of Administrative hearings, according to documents filed Monday. The case emerged as the agency also faces an administrative challenge to an attempt to revoke the license of a Pensacola abortion clinic.

The Hialeah case is linked, at least in part, to a 2015 state law that requires women to receive information from doctors and then wait at least 24 hours before having abortions. After years of battles about the constitutionality of the law, a Leon County circuit judge upheld the waiting-period requirement in April.

The Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates abortion clinics, alleged that it reviewed records at the Hialeah facility on May 17 and could not find documentation that 41 patients had received the required information. It said it would fine the clinic $1,000 for each of the patients.

“The documentation was required to establish that the physician who was to perform the procedure or the referring physician, had at a minimum, orally, while physically present in the room, and at least 24 hours before the procedure informed the patient of the risks set out in (state law).” the agency’s administrative complaint said. “Absent such documentation, there was no record that the clinic obtained each patient's informed consent to the procedure.”

But the clinic fired back in a legal document, disputing the allegations and accusing the agency of “uncleaned hands” in the case.

“Petitioner (the agency) knew or should have known that respondent (the clinic) and its treating physicians gave notice to each patient pursuant (to state law),” the document said. “Respondent gave the two forms (signed by each patient) … to petitioner, showing compliance with the statute.”

The Hialeah and Pensacola cases come amid a backdrop of legal and political battles across the country about abortion issues. As an example, Florida lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis this year approved a measure to prevent abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, drawing constitutional challenges that remain pending.

In the Pensacola case filed last week at the Division of Administrative Hearings, the Agency for Health Care Administration is seeking to revoke the license of Integrity Medical Care, LLC, which does business as American Family Planning, and impose a $343,200 fine.

The agency has focused, in part, on complications suffered by at two women who went to the Pensacola facility in March and May for second-trimester abortions. It alleged that physicians and staff did not comply with the proper standard of care.

But in a July 12 document filed at the agency, an attorney for the clinic disputed the allegations, writing that the clinic “provided care to patients in accordance with the standard of care” and that its complication rate is lower than the national average. The case has been assigned to Judge W. David Watkins.

The agency in May issued an emergency suspension of the Pensacola clinic’s license. The clinic has challenged that move at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Jim Saunders - News Service of Florida