Scott’s office scrubbed release that cleared Planned Parenthood

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AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek. (Florida NewsMakers)
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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's office scrubbed a press release written by his own regulators that found there was no "mishandling of fetal remains" at clinics run by Planned Parenthood and, at the same time, said it would refer doctors who worked at those clinics to the state Board of Medicine for possible disciplinary action.

Amid an outcry over a series of videos filmed at Planned Parenthood clinics outside Florida, Scott ordered health care regulators to inspect 16 Florida clinics run by the organization. The regulators reported that three clinics performed unlicensed abortions and that one did not follow its own guidelines for disposing of fetal remains.

But emails between Scott's office, the Agency for Health Care Administration and Planned Parenthood show top officials working for Scott reworded an agency press release to delete information AHCA officials had proposed including.

The state released its findings of the Planned Parenthood investigations on Aug. 5. Emails between the governor’s office and AHCA, obtained by POLITICO Florida through a public records request, show the agency prepared a press release that same day noting that “there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.”

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Scott's office revised the release to exclude that sentence, an email sent by Scott’s communications director, Jackie Schutz, shows. Additionally, the revised release noted the AHCA would refer physicians who worked at the clinics to the Board of Medicine for possible disciplinary action.

When the revised release was sent back to the AHCA for review, Katherine Riviere, the communications director, sent an email to senior staff, including Secretary Liz Dudek, that said, "I would have thought a line on no evidence of mishandling of fetal remains would be included as that’s what questions will be on."

Dudek, in response to Riviere’s email, said she "agreed with the comment.”

Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said she was not surprised by the emails.

"The fact is Governor Rick Scott is playing politics with women’s health by orchestrating this attack on a trusted health care provider,” she said in an email to POLITICO Florida. “Planned Parenthood has always adhered to the highest ethical guidelines and standards of medicine.”

The emails also show Planned Parenthood attorneys tried to reach a compromise with the AHCA over how abortions should be reported to the state. Planned Parenthood sought an agreement on the reporting documents to avoid litigation. Unable to reach a compromise, Planned Parenthood sued the state in Circuit Court seeking in injunction to prevent the state from taking regulatory action against the clinics. AHCA has not fined the clinics and the lawsuit is pending.

Schutz did not have an immediate comment about the emails.

Planned Parenthood did not answer questions about whether any of its physicians who worked at clinics cited by health regulators had been referred to the Board of Medicine. AHCA spokewoman Shelisha Coleman did not directly answer whether the agency referred any physicians to the board for potential discipline. Coleman said such investigations are confidential.