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An Orlando clinic challenges a $193,000 fine over the state's 24-hour abortion waiting period

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An administrative complaint filed by AHCA alleged that 193 abortions were performed at the facility from April 26 to May 7 without the state-mandated 24-hour waiting periods.

An Orlando women's clinic is challenging a potential $193,000 state fine, the third case to emerge in recent weeks about whether clinics properly complied with a law requiring 24-hour waiting periods before abortions can be performed.

A Leon County circuit judge on April 25 issued a decision upholding the law, which passed in 2015 but had been on hold amid a constitutional fight. The state Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates clinics that perform abortions, has sought to impose fines for alleged violations of the law in the days and weeks after the judge’s ruling.

Three challenges have been filed at the state Division of Administrative Hearings since Aug. 1, with the largest filed last week involving the Center of Orlando for Women. An administrative complaint filed by the Agency for Health Care Administration alleged that 193 abortions were performed at the facility from April 26 to May 7 without 24-hour waiting periods. State law allows the agency to collect $1,000 for each violation of the law.

But the clinic argues that it made repeated requests to the agency in April and May for information about when the 24-hour waiting period requirement would take effect and got no information.

“The agency regulating abortion clinics could not tell the owner of a clinic the effective date of a major change in the law governing the process of providing an abortion,” the clinic’s response filed at the Division of Administrative Hearings said. “More specifically, respondent had heard of the ruling that allowed the 24-hour waiting period to go into effect but could not locate any information about the effective date of the new requirement which mandated a significant change in how abortions are provided in Florida.”

The two other cases pending at the Division of Administrative Hearings involve Miami-Dade County clinics. One of the cases challenges AHCA's attempt to impose a $41,000 fine against A GYN Diagnostic Center, while the other challenges the agency’s attempt to collect $3,000 from Doctor’s Office for Women, which does business as Today’s Women Medical Center.

While the details of the three cases differ, each centers on allegations that the agency found violations of the 24-hour waiting period law when it conducted surveys at the facilities in May.

The law requires women to receive information from doctors about abortions and then wait at least 24 hours before having the procedures.

Meanwhile, AHCA also faces an administrative challenge to an attempt to revoke the license of a Pensacola clinic, Integrity Medical Care, 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. The state alleged that physicians and staff did not comply with the proper standard of care — an allegation the clinic disputes. The case does not involve the 24-hour waiting period law.

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.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.
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