TALLAHASSEE -- Planned Parenthood on Monday asked a judge to intervene in its ongoing dispute with Gov. Rick Scott and state health regulators over alleged violations of its licenses to perform abortions.
The organization filed a lawsuit against the state Agency for Health Care Administration in response to citations it was issued Aug. 5 at three of its 16 Florida clinics. AHCA alleges that Planned Parenthood was illegally performing abortions in the second trimester of pregnancy when it was only licensed to serve first-trimester patients at its facilities in St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Naples.
Planned Parenthood disagrees, saying the abortions under fire from AHCA were conducted in the first trimester and are, therefore, completely allowable.
"We're trying to get clarification from the court as to our rights and responsibilities," Planned Parenthood lawyer Julie Gallagher said. "We're seeking an injunction to prevent AHCA from taking any further action against us in the form of
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sanctions or actions against our clinics."
At issue are the details of a 2006 regulation by AHCA, which defines the first trimester as the first 12 weeks after egg fertilization, or the first 14 weeks after the pregnant woman's last menstrual period.
Acting on orders from Scott to investigate every Planned Parenthood location in Florida, AHCA found cases where mothers received abortions 13 weeks after their last menstrual period. AHCA spokeswoman Katherine Riveire said in a statement Monday that Planned Parenthood reported the unlawful abortions.
But the organization has not admitted to any wrongdoing.
The organization routinely reports the length of pregnancies it aborts to the state, according to Second Judicial Circuit Court filings by Planned Parenthood. This reporting hasn't resulted in violations before.
Still, AHCA stands by its decision, and two weeks ago said it has not changed its definition of the first trimester.
"The Agency looks forward to litigating this matter," Riviere said.
The investigations came after videos of Planned Parenthood employees in other states discussing the sale of fetal organs went viral online. The group called the inspections Scott ordered -- which broke with AHCA's practice of keeping inspections secret until they have been completed -- politically motivated.
Planned Parenthood court filings call the violations "unprecedented" and "completely contrary" to state regulations. Still, the three clinics involved have stopped performing some abortions they call first-trimester procedures, transporting patients to other clinics.
Without a ruling in their favor by Judge George Reynolds, the clinics could have to pay fines, have their licenses suspended by the state or even face criminal allegations.
"The immediate goal is to get relief from these letters that have told us that AHCA now considers us to be illegally performing second-trimester procedures," Gallagher said.