Refuse & Resist! is outraged by the guilty verdict against Florida abortion provider Dr. James Pendergraft for Federal conspiracy extortion charges. Dr Pendergraft now faces the possibility of 30 years in jail and $750,000 in fines. He was found guilty of extortion. His "crime"? Working to protect his patients and employees from threats from the local anti-abortion community.
Dr Pendergraft is an African-American abortion provider who has been the focus of ongoing local government efforts to keep him from practicing in Ocala, Florida, which culminated in the current charges. Dr. Pendergraft's patients, colleagues, and supporters are outraged at what they call a "political prosecution" of the board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist based in Orlando, Florida. In a state where two doctors and an escort have been murdered by anti-abortion shooters, he specializes in performing late-term abortions up to 28 weeks, which only a few physicians in the country are able to do.
On November 15 at a ceremony in New York City, Dr. Pendergraft was honored as a Courageous Resister by Dr. Robert Rockwell, National Secretary of Refuse & Resist! In a moving introduction, Robert detailed the reason for the award: "Dr. Pendergraft is an abortion provider who refuses to back down from providing abortions. He opened his clinic despite a letter from the chairman of the Marion County Board of Commissioners that stated that he was not welcome in the city of Ocala. This alone would have been enough to merit a Courageous Resister Award, but Dr. Pendergraft did even more. He refused to be silenced despite the threat of the loss of his medical license, 30 years in jail, and one million in fines. He refused to be a victim of the newest strategy of anti-abortion foes who now use the legal arena to keep doctors from providing abortions."
The trail made one thing clear: the charges against Dr. Pendergraft were in fact driven by political and anti-abortion sentiments. The prosecutor, the County Commissioner who led the efforts to get Dr. Pendergraft out of Ocala, and the FBI agent who led the sting operation against Dr. Pendergraft are all openly anti-abortion. The FBI agent and the County Commissioner belong to local churches that actively protest Dr. Pendergraft's Ocala clinic. The County Commissioner admitted on the stand that he revealed confidential matters concerning the case to his minister, who is an anti-abortion activist. The prosecutor allegedly referred to the doctor as a "head-crusher". Even more outrageously, the trial revealed a thread of racism that ran through the case. The prosecutor allegedly mimicked Dr. Pendergraft's accent in a racially demeaning manner at a meeting, and in closing remarks at the trial, he claimed Dr. Pendergraft "shucked and jived" on the witness stand.
The Reproductive Freedom Task Force of R&R! sees the conviction of Dr. Pendergraft, along with the previous conviction of Dr. Bruce Steir, a California abortion provider who was charged with murder, as a "new front" of efforts to target certain abortion providers and intimidate others out of business. A long-time task force member working on the defense says, "It is clear that if Dr. Pendergraft was a high-profile heart surgeon, there would never have been an indictment."
We can't let another abortion provider be stopped from providing abortions! If we don't fight this conviction with everything we've got, a dangerous precedent will be set that will lead to the prosecution of other providers around the country. Abortion providers save women's lives, and must not be taken out with such blatantly political criminal charges. Providing abortion is not a crime!
For more information about how you can support Dr. Pendergraft, and a list of supporters, articles, and legal documents, check out the Web site of the defense committee, of which Refuse & Resist! is a member, at http://www.righttofight.org. Also see the R&R! Reproductive Freedom Taskforce site at http://www.refuseandresist.org/ab/
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