The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMC) in Burlington violated federal law by forcing a nurse to participate in an abortion despite her conscientious objection.
The nurse, who remains anonymous, claims that she believed she was aiding a patient who had suffered a miscarriage. She had previously informed her employer that she could not participate in abortions due to her religious beliefs. Once she confirmed that the procedure was in fact an abortion, she asked her superiors to replace her with “equally qualified and available personnel,” but her request was denied. Under pressure by the doctor, she relented and remained in the operating room, but says she has “been haunted by nightmares ever since.”
Upon investigating, the HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) discovered the hospital has “discriminatory policies that assign or require employees to assist abortion procedures even after they have recorded their religious or moral objections to assisting in the performance of such abortions.”
HHS has sent a Notice of Violation letter to UVMC, giving the hospital 30 days to comply with the Church Amendments, a clause enacted in the 1970s to protect the conscience rights of individuals and entities that object to performing or assisting in abortion or sterilization procedures due to religious beliefs or moral convictions. If the hospital refuses to take corrective action, it may lose federal funding.
“Forcing medical staff to assist in taking a human life inflicts a moral injury on them that is not only unnecessary and wrong, it violates longstanding federal law,” said Roger Severino, director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS.
In a Facebook post, Franklin Graham commended the Trump administration’s proactive measures to uphold religious liberty and conscience protections: “Religious freedom is an important issue for all of us, and I’m thankful to God that we have an administration in Washington that recognizes this.”
Connor Semelsberger of the Family Research Council agreed: “This is now the third time under the Trump administration that HHS has investigated conscience violations, and we commend their efforts to enforce laws that protect people’s rights to live by their religious or moral beliefs in all areas of life, including their professional lives.”
John Smeaton, chief executive of Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, called the hospital’s action disturbing. “Through manipulation and pressure, the nurse in Vermont was forced to participate in what is the killing of an innocent human being. This is a disturbing infringement of her conscience and a horrendous emotional ordeal, to say nothing of the fundamental injustice against the baby killed by the procedure.”
Smeaton continued: “What we are now witnessing is a global violation of freedom of conscience as various nations have now undertaken measures to punish those medical staff reluctant to partake in the killing of humans through abortion. It is vital that medical staff re-assert their right to integrity of conscience and restore the Hippocratic ethic which once underpinned medical practice.”
The Burlington hospital told a local newspaper it made the decision to start offering elective abortions in September 2017 after decades of offering the procedure only by “medical necessity” upon advice from medical staff and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.