Many abortion clinics across south Florida are facing crippling fines from the state after the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) started fining clinics for not adhering to what’s called the 24-hour law.
The law passed in 2015, and requires abortion clinics to wait a full 24 hours from the time a patient comes in for a consultation to perform the abortion.
The law was tabled for seven years amid legal battles over its constitutionality.
However, in April of 2022, a Leon County Circuit Judge upheld the law, meaning clinics now had to comply. However, many of the abortion clinics across the state told WPTV that AHCA, who regulates these laws, never told them about the change.
“It’s like this law was passed overnight, while everyone was sleeping,” said one Broward County provider, who asked WPTV not to share her name or her face.
“When did you get contacted by AHCA?” asked WPTV’s Kate Hussey.
“AHCA never contacted us. About the 24 hour? No, they never contacted us,” the provider said.
“You asked us to keep your face and name out of this story, why is that?” asked Hussey.
“So, we are not targeted for any reason,” the provider said.
“Is that a fear of yours? That you’ll be targeted?” asked Hussey.
“Yes. That would be,” the provider said.
She sat down with WPTV for an interview in September, a little over a year after the law took effect.
She told WPTV the clinic started abiding by the 24-hour law in late April of 2022 in case it took effect, but about three weeks later, got a visit from a AHCA representative, who later fined the clinic tens of thousands of dollars for not complying with the law earlier, even though court documents show the clinic had no history of violations.
“It ended up saying we weren’t following the 24-hour mandate,” the provider said.
Now, she feels she’s been targeted.
“I mean, I’m afraid of the next time they come to do an inspection. I don’t know what to expect,” the provider said.
The Broward County clinic is one of 14 in the state AHCA is now fining in amounts ranging from $1 to $193,000 for not following the law, according to documents WPTV obtained from the state.
Eleven of those clinics are in south Florida. The clinic fined $193,000 is the Center of Orlando for Women.
Court documents WPTV obtained show the center called AHCA 14 times between April 14 and May 4, asking if the law took effect. In each case, however, documents show an AHCA representative said they didn’t know when the law would take effect, even after the date it was upheld.
The Center of Orlando for Women’s attorney Julie Gallagher told WPTV they tried to appeal the fines, which she said would bankrupt the clinic.
However, the final AHCA ruling obtained by WPTVshowed the state continued to fine the center the full amount, even though a judge recommended the agency reduce the fines to $67,550.
“These 24-hour laws really only exist to be a regulatory force against abortion clinics only,” a Stand With Abortion Now of Orlando (SWAN) representative said. “They are a targeted law to trip people up to levy fines so that they can regulate a certain business.”
WPTV interviewed the representative, who also asked to stay anonymous due to fear of retaliation from protesters.
The nonprofit helped start a fundraiser for the Center of Orlando for Women to help the clinic raise enough money to pay their fines and stay in business, and said since then, three other clinics now on the brink of bankruptcy have reached out for help too.
“In any case, it disrupts the ability for these clinics to care for patients whenever they’re fined these amounts,” the SWAN representative said.
According to Reproductive Freedom for All, formerly known as NARAL, 24% of Florida women already live in a county without access to an abortion clinic, and SWAN said they feel the 24-hour law is meant to increase that statistic.
“Abortion bans are unpopular, so if they don’t have to outright ban abortion and they can just regulate providers out of existence,” the SWAN representative said. “They can still get the goal of forcing people to be pregnant when they don’t want to be.”
WPTV reached out to AHCA multiple times for an in-person interview to address these concerns. The agency denied WPTV’s request for an interview each time, and instead referred to the Florida State Statutes outlining the law. The agency did not answer WPTV’s questions directly, or explain why clinics aren’t notified of legislative changes, but said they couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Hussey asked the provider if she felt the agency should have contacted them about the law.
“I do feel like they should at least let you know,” the provider said.
Since they didn’t, she now fears bankruptcy could loom closer for her clinic too, while a lack of access looms over the women she works to serve.
“Yes, it’s horrible,” the provider said.
“Will the clinic be able to stay open?” asked Hussey.
“I’m hoping, because we do want to keep this place open to keep helping women,” the provider said.
Her clinic does have about six months to pay of its fines, and after hearing of other clinics using GoFundMe pages and other fundraisers, the owner of the clinic said she is considering going down the same route.
Gallagher, the attorney for the Center of Orlando for Women, didn’t want to do an interview, but told WPTV her clients are thankful for SWAN and the community for helping them stay open.
SWAN is now organizing a TikTok live fundraiser this weekend called No More Clinics Closed to help those other three clinics struggling.
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