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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fillings indicate that state and Planned Parenthood "in process" of settling dispute over South Florida clinics' practices

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2015 at 6:25 PM

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An administrative law judge has canceled a hearing in the case of a South Florida abortion clinic accused by the state Agency for Health Care Administration of improperly performing second-trimester abortions, records show.

The case stems from a series of AHCA inspections in August, which produced similar administrative charges against the Aastra Women's Center in Plantation, three Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Naples and the Bread and Roses Women's Health Center in Gainesville.

Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham this month granted an AHCA motion requesting that he "relinquish jurisdiction" over the agency's case against the Aastra Women's Center. A hearing had been scheduled this week in the case.

"The parties have reached an agreement in concept to resolve this matter and are in the process of executing a settlement agreement," said the Dec. 11 motion filed by AHCA Assistant General Counsel John Bradley. "Should the settlement fail for any reason, each party has the right to file a motion to reopen this matter."

Bradley noted that Tallahassee attorney Julie Gallagher, who represents Aastra, "has no objection to this motion." Van Laningham granted the motion the same day.

Gallagher said Wednesday the potential settlement with the agency would involve no admission or finding of guilt.

"The settlement was a business decision," she wrote in a text. "Fines were minimal vs. cost of hearing. Each party asserts its position was correct. … Made sense to do the deal."

Additionally, she said, the agency "cannot use the settlement as a basis for any future action" against Aastra "unless it starts the due process all over again."

AHCA communications director Mallory Deason, however, wrote in an email, "As of now there is no executed settlement agreement with Aastra Women's Clinic, this is ongoing litigation."

In September, the agency alleged that the clinics performed second-trimester abortions without proper licenses. In each of the cases, the clinics argued that the state agency used a shifting definition of what constitutes the first trimester of pregnancy and requested hearings before administrative law judges.

Each of the clinics is licensed to perform first-trimester abortions. In their petitions filed in the Division of Administrative Hearings, the clinics said the procedures cited by AHCA were within the scope of the facilities' licenses.

The state's allegations carry potential fines.

An administrative law judge is scheduled to hear the Planned Parenthood cases on Jan. 26 and 27, according to online dockets. Another judge is scheduled to hear the Bread and Roses case on March 1 and 2.

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