Vanderbilt Abandons Policy Forcing Nursing Students to Do Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 12, 2011   |   7:30PM   |   Nashville, TN

After a pro-life legal group filed a complaint against Vanderbilt University for a policy requiring incoming nursing students to assist in abortions, the college has caved and modified the policy.

Late Wednesday, Vanderbilt officials modified its nurse residency application so that it no longer requires applicants to pledge that they will participate in abortions. The university made the announcement in an e-mail to applicants one day after the Alliance Defense Fund filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Christians and other pro-life members of the medical community shouldn’t be forced to participate in abortions to pursue their profession. That’s what federal law says, and that’s why Vanderbilt is doing the right thing in changing its policy and application,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman in a statement to

He added, “We will be monitoring the situation to make sure the university continues to comply with the law. It’s ironic that Vanderbilt changed its policy one day after denying that it required the pledge.”

Vanderbilt receives more than $300 million in federal tax dollars each year, and federal law prohibits grant recipients from forcing students or health care workers to participate in abortions contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

ADF attorneys filed the complaints on behalf of two fourth-year nursing students at other universities who wished to apply to Vanderbilt’s nurse residency program but have been unable to do so because page 15 of the nurse residency application required them to promise to participate in abortions.

The nurse residency application the nursing program at Vanderbilt uses clearly requires the abortion pledge, and goes as far as encouraging nursing candidates to pursue other vocational goals if they refuse to participate in abortions.

“If you are chosen for the Nurse Residency Program in the Women’s Health track, you will be expected to care for women undergoing termination of pregnancy. Procedures performed in the Labor and Delivery unit include…terminations of pregnancy,” it states. “If you feel you cannot provide care to women during this type of event, we encourage you to apply to a different track of the Nurse Residency Program to explore opportunities that may best fit your skills and career goals.”

The update Vanderbilt issued today says: “While Vanderbilt expects all health care providers, including nurses who participate in the Nurse Residency Program’s Women’s Health Track, to provide compassionate care to all patients, no health care provider is required to participate in a procedure terminating a pregnancy if such participation would be contrary to an individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

“Attached to this communication is an information sheet that replaces the Women’s Health Acknowledgment form that accompanied the application packet,” university officials added.

Before abandoning the policy, Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman John Howser told the Tennessean newspaper the guidelines mean nursing students may provide care to women who will seek or may have sought abortions, but don’t have to participate in abortions themselves.

“The letter was added in order to create an awareness that terminations are performed here at Vanderbilt,” Howser said yesterday.  “If you choose to participate (in the nurse residency program), you will be around patients who have had or are seeking terminations, and you may be asked to care for them. It does not say that you are required to participate in performing or in the performance of terminations.”

Howser said the college has a longstanding policy of allowing employees and students to opt out of activities due to religious beliefs, ethical views or for other similar reasons: “This policy also applies to applicants to our nursing residency program who may be requested to participate in the care of women who seek medical care associated with the termination of pregnancy.”

But David French, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said yesterday he doesn’t understand why Vanderbilt doesn’t include that in the nursing student packet. Without it, pro-life students are deterred from joining the program.

“The issue here is their application materials,” French said. “You can’t create a better way to screen out pro-life applicants if you try. That violates the (federal law) regardless of whatever policy they might have.”

The ADF letter to HHS urged  immediate action because of an upcoming deadline in the nursing program.

“Because the deadline for Vanderbilt’s nurse residency applications is January 28, 2011, it is imperative that HHS immediately act to prohibit Vanderbilt from rejecting or discriminating against nurse residency applicants…who do not wish to promise that they will assist abortions,” the letter says.

ADF said  the potential nursing student who filed the complainant “can and is prepared to submit all that the application requires and to fulfill all of the program’s requirements, except only that she has a religious objection to participating in abortions and to promising to do so by signing the Application’s letter.”

“We repeatedly see universities and other users of taxpayer dollars tell students and staff that they must submit to the institution’s preferred ideology or take a hike,” said French. “What many of these institutions truly want–besides money–are people who share their leftist political and social views.”

The case comes on the heels of another ADF is involved with that revolves around a nurse who was forced by a hospital to assist in an abortion.

Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo lost a federal court ruling saying she doesn’t have the right to sue the hospital that forced her to participate in an abortion.

ADF is currently involved in a second lawsuit in New York state court to defend Cenzon-DeCarlo’s conscience rights under state law, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld the dismissal of her federal lawsuit, leaving only an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the means to defend her rights protected under federal law.

While medical workers and potential medical workers face problems of hospitals and medical programs not respecting their conscience on abortion, the Obama administration admitted in legal papers in December that it is still pursuing the overturning of additional conscience protections the administration of pro-life President George W. Bush put in place in 2008.