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Planned Parenthood requests injunction against state health agency

Planned Parenthood on Monday requested that a judge intervene in its ongoing battle with the Agency for Health Care Administration over state regulatory violations it was issued Aug. 5.

The request for an emergency injunction centers around three Planned Parenthood clinics cited for illegally performing second-trimester abortions while holding only a license for first-trimester abortions. Planned Parenthood has said the procedures were first-trimester abortions, and that the citations by AHCA violate the agency's own licensing rules.

"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 sanctions or actions against our clinics."

At issue, Gallagher said, is a 2006 rule by the state Agency for Health Care Administration that defined the first trimester as the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and the first 14 weeks from the pregnant woman's last menstrual period.

The allegations by Gov. Rick Scott's administration are false, Gallagher said, but in an abundance of caution, all three clinics have stopped performing abortions up through the 14th week. Those patients have been redirected to other clinics.

The state could impose fines against the clinics, declare a moratorium on the procedures being performed or try to suspend the clinics' licenses by filing an administrative complaint against the clinics, which Gallagher said could trigger allegations of criminal activity.

No such activities have occurred "that we know of," she said.

"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.

The violations earlier this month followed inspections at all 16 Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott ordered AHCA inspectors to visit the sites after videos surfaced and went viral online that appear to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal organ sales in another state. Similar programs are illegal in Florida.

Though the inspections failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing related to organ and tissue donation, they did result in citations at four clinics, including the three above, and one in Pembroke Pines where record keeping about the disposal of fetal remains was at issue.

Gallagher was general counsel at AHCA from 1999 to 2001, during former Gov. Jeb Bush's first term. She said the Bush administration never questioned whether Planned Parenthood clinics were operating legally.