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Labor and delivery

Abortion | A gruesome Florida abortion saga reveals sordid-and possibly illegal-practices in late-term procedures

Issue: "Memorial Day 2005," May 28, 2005

"It's a women's clinic . . . My friend is having an abortion and the baby was born alive. . . . They're not allowing her to use the phone there. They're wanting the baby to die! . . . and she's not wanting that to happen."

That was a portion of the 911 call to the Orlando Fire Department on April 2, when a 34-year-old woman named Angele (who asked that only her first name be used) claims to have delivered a live baby during a botched abortion at the EPOC Clinic-and that the child died after clinic workers refused to render aid or call for help (see "Rowan's story," WORLD, May 7).

On April 27, Orange County, Fla., Chief Medical Examiner Jan Garavaglia prepared her report on the death of the boy, whom Angele named Rowan. Dr. Garavaglia-who is a bit of a celebrity with her own show on the Discovery Health Channel-found "no forensic evidence" that Rowan had been born alive. Dr. Garavaglia did conclude that Rowan was a baby, including in her report a physical description of the boy having red, slightly wrinkled skin, normal facial features, tiny fingernails, and hair on his head.

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That's not what abortion workers at the EPOC Clinic told the Orlando Fire Department (OFD). Clinic workers told OFD medical rescuers that an abortion patient had "passed some tissue," was "hysterical," and that no live baby had been born. A spokeperson for abortionist and clinic owner James Scott Pendergraft later told reporters that what Angele claimed "absolutely never happened."

The EPOC Clinic is one of six Florida abortion businesses owned by Dr. Pendergraft, a self-avowed empire builder who in 2000 told BusinessWeek he dreamed of expanding his chain of clinics up the Sunshine State's east coast all the way to his home state of North Carolina.

But a seven-month federal prison stint stemming from a 2000 extortion conviction stalled those plans. (The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2002, but left open the possibility of retrying Dr. Pendergraft and another man on conspiracy charges.) Now, the incident at the EPOC Clinic could spell further trouble for the abortionist-particularly in light of revelations that his employees may have deceived fire and law enforcement officials.

An OFD paramedic, who asked that his name be withheld to protect his job, said that at 10:23 a.m. on April 2 a friend of Angele's, who had driven her to the abortion clinic for day two of a "labor and delivery" abortion procedure, called 911 to report that the baby had been born alive. Three paramedics and one emergency medical technician sped to the scene at 609 Virginia Dr. They were greeted outside by an EPOC Clinic worker who told them that no baby had been born alive-that such a thing wasn't even possible. Instead, a woman scheduled for an abortion had "passed some tissue," was "hysterical," and was refusing to hand "the tissue" over to clinic workers.

According to the OFD paramedic who spoke with WORLD, fire personnel were not aware the "tissue" in question was in reality a fully formed baby boy. That, along with clinic workers' assertion that Angele was clinging hysterically to "the tissue," would explain why fire department medical workers, in their report, noted that they had assisted the Orlando Police Department (OPD) in handling a "disturbing the peace" call.

Dr. Pendergraft has told WORLD he will not comment on the April 2 incident.

The OFD paramedic's story matches OPD Officer Jonathan Pinder's account of events. One of two OPD officers to respond to the scene, Mr. Pinder told WORLD that the fire department "called us in reference to releasing the baby. I guess [Angele] wanted to hold onto the fetus, and the clinic had some concerns that she wouldn't release it."

When Mr. Pinder arrived, "the fire guy told us the baby had already been turned over. I made contact with [Angele] as a courtesy," and helped Angele and her friend call a funeral home and a cab.

According to the OFD paramedic WORLD spoke with, EPOC Clinic workers told fire department responders that the situation inside the clinic was under control and that a doctor was supervising the whole affair. That conflicts with a complaint that Liberty Counsel, a conservative public interest law firm, lodged with the Florida Department of Health and Florida's Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA). The complaints cited several violations of Florida law in the April 2 incident, including the absence of a doctor during the abortion procedure.

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