Florida health care regulators will go to court in the coming weeks to defend their move to hit three abortion clinics with a cumulative $237,000 in fines.
Those penalties were levied after the regulators were accused of violating a state law that requires women to wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion and mandating clinics obtain informed written consent from a patient prior to providing the procedure.
The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) is fining the Center of Orlando for Women $193,000 for the alleged violations, a move that, according to court documents, will likely bankrupt the abortion provider.
A GYN Diagnostic Center, Inc. has been hit with $41,000 in penalties for violating the law. A Doctor’s Office for Women Inc., which operates as Today’s Women Medical Center in Miami, has been hit with $3,000.
All three providers are challenging the agency’s allegations in state administrative court in November and December.
The complaint against the Center of Orlando for Women was filed after AHCA regulators surveyed the abortion clinic in May. During the survey, the clinic manager said she was aware of the 24-hour waiting period but that she was unsure of when the clock started ticking.
Though the law was passed in 2015, it was litigated for seven years before a Leon County circuit court judge ruled in April it was constitutional.
In order to ensure the clinic complied with the law, the clinic on May 10 decided to start counseling their clients in the morning and performing the procedures the following afternoon to “assure more than a 24-hour time frame and to reduce confusion.”
State regulators reviewed the records of 217 abortions provided at the clinic between April 26 and May 11. In its administrative complaint, the state alleges the clinic provided 193 abortions between April 26 and May 7 without waiting the required 24 hours. The abortions provided on May 10 and May 11 adhered to the 24-hour waiting requirement, according to the administrative complaint.
The Center of Orlando for Women argues in court documents that it repeatedly asked the state for guidance as to when the 24-hour ban took effect, but received no guidance.
Moreover, the clinic is arguing that AHCA did not post any information on its website about the law taking effect.
The complaint will be heard via Zoom on Dec. 15 and 16.
Florida law requires clinics to get the voluntary informed written consent of the pregnant woman — or her guardian, if the patient is deemed mentally incompetent — before performing an abortion.
Except in instances of medical emergencies, consent is voluntary and informed only if the physician who performs the procedure or the referring physician has informed the woman of the risks of the procedure and the probable gestational age of the fetus (verified by an ultrasound). At a minimum, that information must be relayed orally while the physician is physically present in the same room, and at least 24 hours before the procedure.
The woman also must be given material printed by the state that provides a description of the fetus, including a description of the various stages of development; a list of entities that offer alternatives to terminating the pregnancy; and detailed information on the availability of medical assistance benefits for prenatal care, childbirth and neonatal care.
The law requires the woman to acknowledge in writing, before the termination of pregnancy, that she received the required information.
Meanwhile, a Doctor’s Office for Women, Inc., alleges the state mixed up reports from different clinics and that the alleged violations “probably belong to other service providers/clinics.”
Vlad Van Rosenthal, the medical director of the clinic, notes in court documents that AHCA is alleging violations for patients 112, 118 and 125. But he said that’s not possible. The patient numbers on the charts are for statistical purposes only, he said, and the patient number tracks the number of procedures provided for the month.
“During the past few years the total monthly number of the patients did not reach even 100,” the medical director wrote, adding that he performed 73 abortions in April and 70 in May. “Therefore medical charts with patients 112, 118 and 125 cannot be attributed to this office.”
A Zoom hearing in that complaint has been scheduled for Nov. 16.