The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has “voluntarily dismissed” a civil lawsuit filed against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) which alleged that the hospital coerced nurses to participate in abortions against their will. One nurse at the center of the case was tricked and coerced into partaking in an abortion in May 2018, according to VT Digger. The hospital allegedly has a history of forcing pro-life staff to assist in abortions despite their known objections.
According to the Burlington Free Press, the DOJ in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont, filed a one-page notice on Friday but gave no reason for the dismissal of the case. In a statement issued Monday, HHS said, “After a detailed evaluation of the underlying legal theory used to issue a referral to the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services withdrew the original referral and requested DOJ dismiss the suit against the University of Vermont Medical Center, a request which was granted.” HHS also said it dropped its notice of violation against UVMMC.
In 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that its investigation into the matter determined that the hospital was in violation of the federal Church Amendments enacted in 1973 that prevent hospitals from discriminating against workers who conscientiously object to committing or assisting in abortions. It found that UVMMC “intentionally, unnecessarily and knowingly” scheduled nurses who had moral or religious objections to participating in abortions to assist in abortions, stating that the hospital discriminates against pro-life medical personnel.
“UVMMC has forced and attempted to force health care personnel (including nurses) into assisting with abortion over their conscience-based objections,” wrote then-director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights Roger Severino.
According to the complaint against UVMMC by DOJ, the hospital “discriminated against conscience objectors because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions opposing abortion….” UVMMC is said to have “forced and attempted to force or required conscience objectors to assist with abortions when such personnel object that assisting with abortions violates their religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
The complaint also accused UVMMC of failing to or refusing to create staffing plans and rotations that would respect the religious beliefs and moral objections of its pro-life staff members. While some staff members were allowed to refuse to assist in caring for a drunk driver who killed five people, and others were allowed to avoid working with doctors who made them feel uncomfortable, pro-life medical staff members were coerced to partake in abortions — targeting them specifically for their anti-abortion values.
In all, the complaint alleges that 10 nurses were coerced into participating in approximately 20 abortions against their will.
Furthermore, a 2014 Policy adapted by the hospital stated, “Refusing to provide care [based on conscience objections] will result in the employee being placed on paid leave while the incident is reviewed. The review may result in corrective action up to and including termination of employment.”
Even if they objected to participating in abortions, the hospital planned to force pro-lifers to do so, against federal law, in order to “ensure that patient care [was] not negatively impacted.” When it came to a drunk driver, workers were allowed to opt out of caring for him, but when it came to killing innocent preborn children, workers were pressured to participate.
Representatives from the hospital originally denied any wrongdoing but began negotiating the issue with the HHS’s Office for Civil Rights prior to the lawsuit’s filing. Hospital president Dr. Stephen Leffler said at the time that the Office for Civil Rights’ “threats are not just baseless from a legal standpoint, they’re an attack on reproductive care and we will do everything we can to protect our patients’ access to the services they need.” A 2019 CBS 17 video included other information on the claims of the case:
Despite the hospital’s prioritization of so-called abortion rights over the federal rights of an employee, it claims it has strengthened “its already-compliant provider opt-out policies and practices.”
The nurse at the center of the case stated that her objection to participating in abortions was well-known. In addition, the complaint states that there was a working list of conscience objectors surrounding abortions. Yet when the nurse was sent to a procedure room for what she was told was a post-miscarriage D&C procedure, she learned it was actually an elective abortion. When she arrived, the abortionist told her, “Don’t hate me.” She was then coerced into participating in the abortion out of fear she would be fired or reported for objecting. The nurse has been “haunted ever since” and the abortion caused her deep emotional trauma that led her to leave UVMMC and her career as an OR nurse.
Biden / Becerra's HHS directs DOJ to abandon lawsuit against Vermont hospital (UVMMC) that forced a nurse to assist in abortion against federal conscience laws. Such a politically motivated backstab means it's open season on pro-life doctors and nurses. https://t.co/ksO8qNyRCH
— Roger Severino (@RogerSeverino_) August 3, 2021
Severino went on to sue the Biden administration, claiming they attempted to force him to resign from his position as director for the Office for Civil Rights before his three-year term was up — and when he refused, he was fired. In a tweet responding to the DOJ’s decision to drop the case, Severino said, “Such a politically motivated backstab means it’s open season on pro-life doctors and nurses.”
Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund VP Lucy Leriche said of the case’s dismissal, “The Department of Justice did the right thing by dropping this politically motivated lawsuit against UVM Medical Center. For patients, health care is personal, not political, and it is time to end government interference when it comes to abortion care.”
Health care may be personal, but abortion is not health care. Every pro-life medical worker and student has the federal right and moral obligation to refuse to participate in abortion procedures. If they are illegally fired for doing so, a lawsuit should be filed. Discriminating against medical personnel who refuse to participate in any procedures to which they morally object — such as the elective killing of a preborn human being — violates federal law. It’s not about politics, it’s about the right to choose not to kill.
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