Florida Supreme Court overturns abortion ban at clinic

AP News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2017 4:47 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Planned Parenthood affiliate has won a battle over whether doctors can perform abortions and sonograms at a Florida health center.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned two lower-court decisions that for the time being would have stopped abortions and sonograms from being performed at the Kissimmee Health Center outside Orlando.

The high court said the trial judge misstated facts, and sent the case back to the lower courts for further litigation. In the meantime, the procedures at the clinic operated by Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando can take place.

The case originated with a lawsuit from doctors who oppose abortion and who work at a different office in the same medical complex. The suit focused on property restrictions; 30 years ago the original developer prohibited the complex from being used as an outpatient surgical center without permission from the developer. An exception was allowed if the surgical procedures were only "ancillary and incidental" to the physician's practice of medicine.

The trial judge ruled that the clinic would be in violation of the prohibition by providing abortions because Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization engaging in advocacy and outreach, not a "physician's practice." But officials with the Orlando affiliate said the clinic is independent from the national arm and not involved with advocacy and outreach. The judge also banned the clinic from offering sonograms, even though the opposing doctors had never asked for that in their lawsuit. Both the high court and the appellate court said that was an error.

The Planned Parenthood officials had told the trial judge that abortions only amounted to 1 percent of the services the organization provided.

"Accordingly, the trial court's conclusion that abortions would be 'substantial' and 'central' to Planned Parenthood's physician practice is simply not supported by competent, substantial evidence in the record," a majority of the Florida Supreme Court justices wrote.

The Orlando Planned Parenthood affiliate purchased the property in 2014, and a month before the health center opened, the neighbor-doctors filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction that would prohibit the clinic from performing abortions and offering the "Morning After" pill.

Officials with the Planned Parenthood affiliate said they would lose $700,000 in revenue if the health center was forced to move, and that moving would take more than a year and a half.