Abortion horrors lead to closures at last
The suspension of a troubled Pensacola, Fla., abortion facility came only after two clients nearly died
Lexy Connelly’s phone died while she was at dinner with her husband Friday, May 20, so the Pensacola, Fla., Sidewalk Advocates for Life program director didn’t hear the news until she charged her phone later that night: Florida health officials had issued an emergency order suspending the license of the local abortion facility, American Family Planning.
But there was sad news, as well. During the May survey of the facility that led to the emergency order, health officials discovered that two women who received second trimester abortions earlier this year nearly died from blood loss. One had to have her reproductive organs removed due to injuries from the abortion, according to the state’s emergency order.
Connelly (WORLD agreed to use her maiden name for this story) had been praying and counseling women outside the abortion facility for years. In that time, she watched ambulances come and go. When a no-trespassing order in April 2021 kept sidewalk counselors away from the nondescript beige building, she sifted through pages of reports from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) outlining health and safety deficiencies at the facility. In November 2021, her group partnered with Students for Life Action and the pro-life watchdog group Reprotection to petition Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to make AHCA enforce the state laws. State officials appeared to be doing nothing, and she had given up hope for change.
“I guess it took these terrible things happening to these women,” said Connelly.
Pro-life groups nationwide have long worked to expose the dangers that some abortion facilities pose to pregnant women. It can take years of prodding state agencies to enforce their own rules before complaints finally reach the ears of an official willing to act. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade this summer and allows states more power to regulate abortion, enforcement by health officials could make or break the effectiveness of state pro-life laws.
In June 2020, Pensacola pro-life groups had contacted Reprotection with suspicions that American Family Planning’s transfer agreement with a local hospital was fraudulent. The abortion facility claimed to have arrangements with two local hospitals to accept patients in cases of emergencies, but letters from the hospitals in 2019 and 2020 showed they were not aware of such arrangements.
Missy Martinez-Stone, CEO of Reprotection, said she started investigating the Pensacola case in June 2020. She talked to local pro-lifers, filed complaints about the facility, and pushed the medical board to act.
Martinez-Stone said Reprotection is working on about 50 similar investigations in roughly 30 states across the country, but it’s hard to say which one will break next. She said getting state health departments to take action against abortion facilities that have broken the rules takes a long time. Not only do members of her team have to gather all of the information through record requests or online databases, but they’re also waiting on the slow-moving bureaucracy of state agencies.
Staffers at Operation Rescue know about the arduous process of revoking the license of a poorly operated abortion facility. President Troy Newman said his group has been filing complaints about the Pensacola facility and an allegedly unlicensed abortionist associated with it for years. Newman has been working to close abortion facilities for more than 30 years and has seen the nationwide numbers drop from more than 2,000 abortion facilities to roughly 700. “Sometimes they close on the first complaint, sometimes they close on the 100th complaint,” he said. “And so occasionally it’s just the culmination of endless complaints, and it finally hits the right person.”
In Ohio, some abortion facilities have taken years of administrative back-and-forth to finally close despite consistent failure to comply with state rules. The Ohio Department of Health moved in 2015 to revoke the license of a Dayton facility that did not have a written transfer agreement with a local hospital but had been operating under special exceptions made by the department. That revocation would have forced the facility to close, but owner and notorious late-term abortionist Martin Haskell sued the department. Even though the department’s order ultimately stood in court and the facility temporarily lost its license in 2019, a loophole allowed it to get a new license. The facility continues to perform surgical abortions under a license today.
American Family Planning in Pensacola remained open even after state surveys in July 2020, October 2020, and January 2021 found deficiencies at the facility. Those included expired medications, poor sterilization procedures, and faulty and dusty equipment. The January 2021 survey found that the facility continued to report a transfer agreement that AHCA already knew was invalid.
The abortion facility claims to have a current transfer agreement with a local hospital. But according to the May 2022 emergency suspension order, staff did not arrange to transfer the woman who experienced severe bleeding that month to that hospital. Instead, staffers directed the patient’s spouse to drive her to another hospital in Mobile, Ala., an hour away.
In the other case, the woman who lost her reproductive organs because of damage from the abortion did wind up at the emergency room of a hospital that had a transfer agreement with the abortion facility. But the facility did not provide any records or documentation to the hospital as required by law. The emergency order noted that the facility also failed to fulfill other requirements, including monitoring patient vital signs, following up with the patient after the procedure, and reporting the incident to AHCA.
In a written statement obtained by local radio station WUWF, attorneys for American Family Planning complained the AHCA suspension was “based on two, and only two, patients out of over 100,000 patients served.”
Since the order is not a full revocation of the license but only a suspension, there is a chance of AHCA reinstating American Family Planning’s license and allowing abortions to resume at the facility. But Martinez-Stone said Reprotection is petitioning the agency not to return the license, arguing that these two cases are just symptoms of problems that have been ongoing for years.
Martinez-Stone called the cases a “perfect example” of why such requirements are crucial: “It has to do with continuity of care. … There needs to be a seamless transition to an emergency department. And when they get to the emergency department, the emergency doctors need to know what’s going on so that they can treat them as quickly as possible. When these women showed up at the hospital, they had nothing.” Failure on the part of health departments to enforce these rules before the facility reaches an emergency situation, she said, could in some cases boil down to a lack of understanding about the importance of safety regulations or just outright hostility to pro-life groups.
Overcoming those barriers will be crucial if pro-life states gain more power to protect women and unborn children from abortion businesses, Martinez-Stone said: “We’re going to have to ensure all of those laws that now get to go into effect are enforced properly.”
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