In a press release today, the Trump administration’s Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it is sending a Notice of Violation letter to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC), a hospital which received $1.6M in federal funds over three years, for forcing objecting employees to assist with elective abortions against their will. This violates the Church Amendments protecting the conscience rights of healthcare workers. The amendments, passed in the 1970s, protect workers from participating in abortion or sterilization procedures ” if doing so would be contrary to the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
According to the Office of Civil Rights, a nurse was forced to participate in an elective abortion — having to choose between keeping her job or following her conscience. She is said to have been “haunted ever since” this incident, in which she showed up to assist with what she believed was a post-miscarriage D&C procedure, only to find that the doctor in the room was an abortionist. Upon the nurse entering the room, the abortionist allegedly remarked, “Don’t hate me.” The nurse’s objection to participate in anything abortion-related had long been known. The Office of Civil Rights noted in a conference call that the D&C was not an emergency situation, and “other staff was available.” Yet, the nurse was forced to participate or lose her job.
UVMMC had, apparently unbeknownst to many of its staff, begun offering elective abortions on site in 2017. According to the press release, “OCR… found that UVMMC 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.” These policies are not in compliance with federal statutes, and the OCR says its main goal is to bring UVMMC into compliance. “… Part of compliance is to make sure the injury is remediated…. Nobody should be put in that position,” OCR’s Roger Severino stated in a conference call.
The press release also notes that UVMMC, located in Burlington, Vermont, “refused to conform its policies to federal conscience laws, provide all the documents requested by OCR, or produce witnesses for OCR interviews. Nevertheless, OCR interviewed multiple witnesses and gathered evidence concerning the allegations.”
Apparently, this particular nurse is not the only one forced into violating her conscience, according to OCR’s press release. Since 2017, other personnel were also reportedly “intentionally, unnecessarily, and knowingly scheduled by UVMMC to assist with elective abortions against their religious or moral objections,” and “were often not told in advance that the procedures they were being assigned to assist with were abortions.” The result of this was “moral injury… a crisis of conscience, and… significant emotional distress….”
The pro-life group Secular Pro-Life reacted to the news in a Facebook post today, writing, “It shouldn’t matter whether [the nurse] was Catholic, or of some other faith, or one of the millions of religiously unaffiliated pro-life Americans. NO ONE should be forced to kill a human being, or forced to be complicit. Conscience for all!”
Severino noted in the press release that OCR “stand[s] ready to assist UVMMC in changing its policies and procedures to respect conscience rights and remedy the effects of its discrimination,” noting that “[f]orcing medical staff to assist in the taking of human life inflicts a moral injury on them that is not only unnecessary and wrong, it violates longstanding federal law.”
UVMMC has 30 days to work with OCR to come into compliance with the law.
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