The legal bill for a state investigation last year of several abortion clinics has come due and landed in the laps of taxpayers. The politically motivated witch hunt against Planned Parenthood turned up nothing, but not before state health officials wasted the public's time and money. What's worse: There's more to come. Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature are unrelenting in their crusade against women and their health care providers.
The Agency for Health Care Administration alleged that three Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers, as well as another clinic in Gainesville, were performing abortions in the second trimester of a pregnancy but were only licensed for first-trimester procedures. Planned Parenthood officials claimed the investigations sprang from the national controversy last summer over secretly recorded videos that showed their employees indelicately discussing fetal tissue donations. The connection was obvious, as conservative politicians around the country seized on the heavily edited videos as grist for new attacks on the nation's largest abortion provider.
The Florida clinics contested the charges, saying they were adhering to a commonly accepted definition of the first trimester. An administrative law judge agreed and said state officials had misread clinic records with a "puzzling persistence." AHCA's legal fees top $75,000, and that's before the clinics seek reimbursement for defending themselves.
Instead of dropping the issue, Scott signed into law legislation that redefines the first trimester of pregnancy. The new definition has no basis in science — instead of being determined by an ultrasound, it relies on a woman's memory of her most recent menstrual cycle. It also blocks medical providers that perform abortions from receiving state money for services including cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease testing and preventive care. It's a punitive measure aimed squarely at Planned Parenthood, which provides those services to needy populations in underserved parts of Florida. The political campaign to defund Planned Parenthood — which by law cannot use public money on abortions — means depriving vulnerable Floridians of basic medical care.
Planned Parenthood sued, and a hearing is set for June 29 to stop the law from taking effect July 1. It's a familiar pattern for supporters of a woman's right to choose. The ACLU filed suit last year to stop a 2015 law requiring two visits to a clinic and a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could undergo an abortion. That law is on hold as the case moves through court, providing tenuous relief for women who should not be subjected to burdensome barriers to a legal procedure.
Beyond Florida, a U.S. Supreme Court decision is expected soon regarding a Texas law that established new regulations for abortion clinics. Supporters say the law makes abortion safer, but the practical effect has been the closure of many clinics and a rise in reports of women attempting self-administered abortions.
The legal bills from AHCA's political investigation into Planned Parenthood's four clinics may seem like pocket change. But it is another waste of taxpayer money — and another chapter in the ongoing attack on abortion rights.