Yesterday and today were the hearings of Dr. James Pendergraft, Florida's premier child butcher. Some people come to Orlando to see Mickey Mouse, others come to labor and deliver their babies through 9 months of pregnancy at Pendergraft's abortuaries. As most of you who read my blog know, Pendergraft's 5 Florida abortion mills were shut down in August of 2006. It was alleged that he killed a baby in the third trimester, outside the legal allowances for such an abortion to take place. The Florida statutes state that any third trimester abortion must be done for the life or health of the mother. It must be done in a hospital, with two doctors signing off that the mother's life is, indeed, at risk. The particular patient, referred to as RW, was carrying a baby with severe fetal anomalies and the state claims the baby was in the third trimester.
After a lot of delays for reasons unbeknownst to me, the hearings finally took place on June 21 and 22 here in Orlando. The hearing was the Department of Health, Board of Medicine vs. James S. Pendergraft, IV, M.D. The charges were not criminal and the only possible discipline is the permanent revocation of his medical license. We don't know exactly what would happen in that case, as far as what would happen to the death mills, but any disciplinary action against a murderous, lawbreaker is good. So, without further adieu, I will discuss the hearings a bit.
The state began the questioning by questioning Pendergraft. After answering the basic, generic questions about his own qualifications, he took the 5th (right to remain silent) on everything, so their questioning ended. The first question he pled the 5th to was when he was asked whether he was the owner of Orlando Women's Center. After jerking his head towards his attorney for an answer, he refused to respond. Once they ended his questioning, they called a Dr. Gomez to the stand. He was submitted as an expert witness in the field of OB/GYN. He is a practicing OB/GYN and abortionist at the Baptist hospital in Miami (there's another blog entry in the making). Based on the measurements given in the ultra sounds and the doctor's reports he studied, he gave the opinion that the baby was at least 27 weeks of gestation, and he said that was a conservative guess. He also believed that the infant had IUGR (intrauterine growth retardation), which would cause him/her to be lighter.
It was noted that in all the paperwork, it was never mentioned that it was an emergency. She saw a few different physicians other than Pendergraft and none of them indicated at any way that her life was at risk.
One of the reasons it is a risk to do an abortion outside of a hospital that late in pregnancy is because the cytotek can cause uterine rupture later in pregnancy, as the uterine wall is thinner. Also, Pendergraft's people were giving RW 200 mg's every hour. Dr. Gomez said he would give that amount ever 4 hours. Doctors are legally required to meet the standard of care set forth in the statutes. Thus, Dr. Gomez concluded that Dr. Pendergraft did NOT meet the standard of care, as he did an elective third trimester abortion outside of a hospital, thus breaking the statute in every aspect.
During the cross examination of Dr. Gomez, the defense lawyers were making a big deal out of measurement discrepancies. On one day, the baby's cerebellum measured 30.5mm and the next day, the measurement was 37mm. It was pointed out that both measurements fell within the same age range on a chart regarding prenatal development. Not to mention...6.5mm...that is just over half a centimeter! We're not talking about inches, here. So, I thought it was silly that he was just trying to discredit things that didn't need to be discredited. He also spoke to Dr. Gomez in a very demeaning tone, which I found rather obnoxious. The state attorneys were much more likeable.
Another thing the attorney brought up was that OWC is within a few minutes of ORMC. However, I find this to be completely irrelevant, and really a rather dumb thing to bring up, since the statute doesn't say it has to be done in a hospital or within a few miles. It says in a hospital. Period. He also mentioned that there were two physicians there (resident killer Harry Perper was helping Pendergraft out). Again--relevance?
During the rebuttal it was again emphasized that the baby was 28 weeks or later, according to every available record.
The defense then brought in a Dr. Plotkin, former Orlando baby killer who is now retired and an employee of Winter Park Memorial Hospital. He had become chummy with Pendergraft when he came to town because he appreciated having an abortion mill close by that did elective 2nd trimester abortions. It was noted by the state attorneys that it had been four years since Plotkin had treated a patient and 6-7 years since he performed an abortion, certainly making him appear less reliable.
Plotkin went on to say Pendergraft obviously met the standards of care. The reasons he gave were the RW was recommended to Pendergraft by a family physician, there were no complications during the procedure, and he thinks the baby was 2nd trimester based on fetal and placental weight at birth (recorded at Orlando Women's Center).
I would say all his reasons, aside from the baby being second tri. are totally moot. For one, it's breaking the law regardless of whether a primary care physician recommended it, and it's breaking the law regardless of whether there were any complications. I thought that was clear.
As to the fetal/placental birth weight, if the infant had IUGR (which, there is good evidence to indicate that he did), then he (or she) would weigh less than a normal fetus. Additionally, in order to push that clearly into the second trimester, Plotkin had to fudge his facts a little bit. He said that the chart was referring to gestational weeks or the menstrual age (the number of weeks since the first day of the woman's last period), and the age to consider is actually the age from the actual date of conception--the gestational age minus two weeks. Ironically enough, on womenscenter.com, the website for Pendergraft's butcher shops, he advertized third trimester abortions as one of their services until sometime in the last few months. Now, the website quotes the following and then says they do not do third trimester abortions, in accordance with state laws.
Third Trimester:The Florida Administrative Code defines third trimester based on gestational age, and NOT age from conception. So, there that argument goes right out the window. He also said the ultrasounds were inaccurate. But, he gave no reason why. So, I don't believe him. He also said that there was evidence of hyperplasia, but that's not true, because the lungs were taking up a normal amount of space, as was the heart.
Defined in Chapter 59A-9.019 of the Florida Administrative Code;
"That portion of pregnancy beginning with the 25th week of gestation"
He went on to say that the patient had a mental medical emergency. However, he did not have the credentials to determine something like that. Not to mention, that such a thing was not determined before the abortion took place. A mental medical emergency clearly constitutes more than being distraught. If I was pregnant and I found out my baby was going to die, and his intestines were outside his body, I would be upset. I'd cry a lot. So would anyone. It simply does not constitute a medical emergency. Dr. Plotkin went on to say that the baby being nonviable and having no chance of survival was a medical emergency. That's ridiculous though. The medical emergency has to be regarding the life or health of the mother. Not the baby. The baby's viability has nothing at all to do with the issue at hand. Period! He continued to say that if the baby died in-utero, that would possibly necessitate a c-section and there are possible complications. But, again, there are far more possible complications with a third trimester abortion--like uterine rupture!
During the cross examination of Plotkin, he said there was no second doctor sigature, no medical emergency, no advice to be hospitalized, and no mention of medical emergency in the documents.
The following day, the defense brought in a seemingly highly qualified professor from UVA. Basically, his conclusion was that the baby was a second trimester baby, and that the ultrasounds were not sufficient to give an accurate age estimation. He also indicated that there were suspicious tests results on a gestational diabetes test which would make the baby LARGER than usual, rather than smaller. He said there were too many confusions between all the different measurements and numbers and hormones (Beta HCG--the pregnancy hormone--this witness said that the number indicated a 5wk. baby) and nothing was reliable.
There was no cross examination. However, there was a good rebuttal. They brought Dr. Gomez to the stand again, and he explained that the Beta HCG levals go up throughout the pregnancy, until the third trimester when they go back down...so the levels indicated that the pregnancy was late in the term. He also stated that there was no diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
The only witness left to question is Dr. Perper, who was present during the alleged illegal abortion. His depositions are due on August 10, and the Judge will have a recommendation to the Board of Medicine by the end of August. Then, they have 90 days to issue a decision.
caption: picture of Pendergraft and his attorneys after the final portion of the hearing, taken by my Mom on my cell phone.