Court: Nurse Can’t Sue Hospital That Forced Her to Do Abortion

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 23, 2010   |   2:36PM   |   Washington, DC

A federal court ruled today that a pro-life nurse doesn’t have the right to sue the hospital that forced her to participate in an abortion.

Though the court dealt a blow to the pro-life nurse, her attorneys say the state case and the overall battle continues and they will vigorously press it to protect her rights.

Since 2004, officials at Mount Sinai Hospital knew that Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo had deeply-felt pro-life views and would not consent to assisting in an abortion.

That didn’t stop hospital officials from threatening her with disciplinary measures if she did not honor a last-minute summons to assist in a scheduled late-term abortion in 2009. They said she would lose her nursing license and potentially her job by not participating.

The Alliance Defense Fund filed two lawsuits on Cenzon-DeCarlo’s behalf — a state lawsuit and a federal one claiming Mt. Sinai ignored federal laws prohibiting such coercion while receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Mt. Sinai responded by saying Cenzon-DeCarlo had no right to sue and no legal rights.

Today, according to Americans United for Life attorney Mailee Smith, “the Second Circuit ruled that a private individual does not have a right to sue her employer after being forced to participate in an abortion.”

As to the federal ruling, as Smith explains, the pro-life nurse “brought suit against the hospital alleging that it had violated the federal Church Amendments by discriminating against her for objecting to participation in abortion. In January, a lower federal court dismissed her case, finding that the Church Amendments do not provide for a private, individual cause of action.”

“In May, AUL filed an amicus brief before the Second Circuit on behalf of the National Association of Prolife Nurses, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Physicians for Life, Christian Medical & Dental Associations, and the Catholic Medical Association,” Smith said. “Together, these groups represent over 19,000 health care professionals across the nation whose freedom of conscience is implicated when facilities like Mt. Sinai Hospital are allowed to force participation in abortion and other controversial procedures without regard to their employees’ religious, moral, or conscientious convictions.”

Smith said the legal brief “argued that the right of conscience is a fundamental right affirmed by our founders as well as by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

She concluded: “The court’s ruling today shows its total disregard for the rights of conscience of our healthcare providers. The right not to participate in a procedure is a fundamental right. But by forbidding Ms. DeCarlo from suing her employer, the Second Circuit has completely eviscerated that right.”

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman told earlier this year that pro-life medical workers deserve to be protected from being forced to assist an abortion procedure.

“Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to assist in abortions against their beliefs,” he said. “It is illegal, unethical, and a violation of Cathy’s rights of conscience as a devout Catholic to require her to participate in terminating the life of a 22-week pre-born child. It was not only wrong, it was needless.”

Despite the fact that the patient was apparently not in crisis at the time of the surgery, the hospital insisted on Cenzon-DeCarlo’s participation in the procedure on the grounds that it was an “emergency,” even though the procedure was not classified by the hospital as such.

In its state lawsuit, ADF attorneys allege that Mt. Sinai is violating state conscience laws, as well as state laws against religious employment discrimination and intentionally inflicting emotional distress on an individual—along with five other claims based on DeCarlo’s coerced participation in the abortion.

“An individual’s conscience is often what brings health care workers into the medical field,” said lead counsel Joseph Ruta. “Denying or coercing their conscience will likely drive them right out.”

Cenzon-DeCarlo previously told the New York Post about what it felt like to have to participate in an abortion against her wishes.

“It felt like a horror film unfolding,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that this could happen.”

She told the newspaper she has been having nightmares and trouble sleeping ever since the May 24 incident.

“I felt violated and betrayed,” Cenzon-DeCarlo said about how officials at the hospital treated her after knowing her faith and values.

Now, she hopes the lawsuit will be sufficient to restore protection for her religious and moral views about abortion in the workplace.

“I emigrated to this country in the belief that here religious freedom is sacred,” she said. “Doctors and nurses shouldn’t be forced to abandon their beliefs and participate in abortion in order to keep their jobs.”