A few weeks ago, it appeared that one of the few remaining abortion clinics in Orlando, Florida would have to close its doors. It was ordered to pay $193,000 in penalties by a government agency, which could have bankrupted the clinic.
But supporters of the clinic, the Center of Orlando for Women, had an idea: they would crowdfund the money to keep it open. They attained triumph in days.
On Friday, approximately 5,500 donors had contributed more than $199,000 to the fundraiser. Numerous contributions were less than $50.
A $5 donor wrote, “I’ll never forget how those protesters traumatized me as a scared teen making the hardest decision of my life.” “I one day hope to go back there and support women the way you do.”
If the Center of Orlando for Women had closed, abortion patients throughout the southern United States would have been impacted. Since Florida is one of the few southern states that still permits abortion, it experienced the largest increase in patients seeking the procedure after Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to researchers from the Society of Family Planning.
However, the procedure’s future in the state is extremely dubious. Although Florida already prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a six-week abortion prohibition earlier this year. (It is presently on pause pending a review of the 15-week ban by the state’s supreme court.)
The penalties stemmed from a 2015 law that required patients to wait 24 hours between an initial abortion consultation and the procedure. This law was placed on hold for seven years due to litigation, but in April of last year, a magistrate authorized its implementation. A few weeks later, the judge issued an order establishing the 24-hour waiting period as law.
According to Julie Gallagher, an attorney for the Center of Orlando for Women, there was one flaw with that order: no one informed the center about it.
Florida Abortion Clinic Faces Hefty Fines Amid Regulatory Challenges
Court records and notes from the clinic show that over the course of three weeks in April and May of last year, the center called the Agency for Health Care Administration in Florida, which is in charge of regulating abortions, more than a dozen times to ask about the 24-hour law.
“The agency wouldn’t tell them anything,” Gallagher stated. “You’re calling the regulators to try to get some guidance on what your current obligations are. And they’re saying they don’t know. Well, they knew. They just weren’t telling.”
According to court documents, the Agency of Healthcare Administration ultimately accused the Center of Orlando for Women of performing 193 abortions without waiting the now-required 24 hours. The agency then fined the center $1,000 for each of these abortions, which is nearly three times the amount a magistrate would have suggested.
A member of the Agency for Health Care Administration testified in court that 14 of Florida’s 55 licensed abortion clinics had failed to comply with the new law, including the Center of Orlando for Women. At least eleven were ordered to pay penalties, with the greatest fine going to the center. Some clinics were also able to negotiate reduced penalties.
According to Gallagher, the center’s exorbitant sanctions are evidence that it is being “singled out.”
Gallagher stated, “I think they think if a few abortion clinics go out of business, then that’s a good thing, under this current climate and this current administration. Nobody is too worried about the impact of the fines on abortion clinics.”
The Agency for Health Care Administration did not respond promptly to a request for comment on the matter.
Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents Orlando in the Florida legislature, made no secret of why she believes Florida slapped the center with such hefty sanctions.
Eskamani tweeted in August, “This is a local abortion provider that is being charged excessive fees by AHCA all designed to shut them down.” Then, she provided a link to the fundraising page.
Source: The Guardian