By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — In the second similar case to emerge in recent weeks, a Miami abortion clinic is fighting an attempt by state regulators to impose a fine over allegations that it did not properly comply with a law requiring 24-hour waiting periods before abortions can be performed.
Doctor’s Office for Women, Inc., which does business as Today’s Women Medical Center, is challenging a potential $3,000 fine in a case filed Wednesday at the state Division of Administrative Hearings.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration alleges that it reviewed clinic records and found three incidents in April and May in which an abortion surgical procedure or termination pills were provided less than 24 hours after patients received required information. The agency, which is seeking a $1,000 fine for each incident, also said the clinic did not have proper documentation.
“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 (part of 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 in a petition seeking a hearing before an administrative law judge, the clinic disputed the agency’s allegations. In part, the clinic said it uses patients’ names in medical charts and the agency referred to patients by numbers. It said medical charts with numbers cited by the agency “cannot be attributed to this office.”
“It appears that the agency mixed up surveyor’s reports from different clinics, and these violations probably belong to other service (providers or clinics),” the petition said.
In addition, the petition said none of the clinic’s medical charts matched times indicated in the complaint.
The case is linked to a 2015 state law that required 24-hour waiting periods. After years of battles about the constitutionality of the law, a Leon County circuit judge upheld the waiting-period requirement in April.
A similar case was filed Aug. 1 at the Division of Administrative Hearings in the Agency for Health Care Administration’s attempt to impose a $41,000 fine against a Hialeah abortion clinic, A GYN Diagnostic Center. The agency alleged that it reviewed records at the facility on May 17 and could not find documentation that 41 patients had received required information at least 24 hours before abortions were performed.
Administrative Law Judge Robert Cohen is scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 in the Hialeah case.
The Agency for Health Care Administration also faces an administrative challenge to an attempt to revoke the license of a Pensacola abortion clinic, Integrity Medical Care, LLC, which does business as American Family Planning.
That case, which is scheduled for a November hearing, has focused, in part, on complications suffered by two women who went to the clinic in March and May for second-trimester abortions. It alleged that physicians and staff did not comply with the proper standard of care — an allegation the clinic disputes.
The administrative disputes have come amid a national debate about abortion rights, largely triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. They also have come amid a court fight about a new Florida law that prevents abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.