Pro-Choice Movement Hitches Its Wagon to Knight in Tainted Armor

Article excerpt

If you haven't heard the name of Dr. James Scott Pendergraft yet, you might soon. He is the latest cause celebre of the abortion-rights movement.

Pendergraft, a Florida abortion provider, was one of the distinguished speakers to take the mike at the April 22 "Emergency Action for Women's Lives" protest in Washington. Organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the purpose of the protest was to raise awareness about the Bush administration's "war on women's rights, especially abortion rights and reproductive freedom." And just for good measure, there was talk of the anticipated retirement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the confirmation baffle that likely will ensue as President George W. Bush attempts to replace O'Connor with a more conservative justice.

The U.S. attorney in Ocala, Fla., is persecuting Pendergraft, rally attendees were informed. The doctor has been in court frequently during the last several years. Most notable was his lawsuit to force Marion County authorities to allow off-duty police officers to provide security services at his clinics. Most recent is a malpractice lawsuit filed in February by a woman who claims that Pendergraft failed to diagnose a pregnancy outside her uterus and, as a result, botched her abortion, necessitating an emergency hysterectomy.

As a result of the Marion County case, his supporters claim, antiabortion federal prosecutors in Ocala began trumping up a criminal case against the good doctor. This "politically motivated" prosecution resulted in a conviction on Feb. 1 on charges of conspiracy, attempted extortion and mail fraud. He faces as much as 30 years in prison and fines of $750,000 when the court reconvenes for sentencing.

One can be forgiven for being a bit skeptical of this tale, as I was when I heard it recounted at the protest. After all, we like to think that this sort of judicial railroading doesn't happen in the United States.

Well, it turns out that it doesn't. Organizers of the Emergency Action rally and march left out some very important parts of the Pendergraft story -- such as the details of the charges.

According to a series of Associated Press ar-ticles appearing in Florida in February, Pendergraft was convicted of fabricating a bomb threat that he alleged had been communicated to him by Marion County commissioner Larry Cretul. …