Court Stops Hospital From Forcing Nurses to Assist Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 3, 2011   |   7:16PM   |   Trenton, NJ

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Thursday prohibiting a New Jersey hospital from forcing any of 12 nurses that sued the facility to participate in training or services related to abortions.

As LifeNews reported, the nurses filed a lawsuit against their employer, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which told them they had to either assist in abortions or risk losing their jobs. The Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of 12 nurses who work for the facility, which receives federal health funds and which told them they needed to assist abortions or be terminated from their employment.

The order, which the hospital agreed to, is in effect until the court decides whether to issue any additional order at a November 18 hearing.

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman told LifeNews that federal and state laws both protect the nurses from being required to participate in medical activities related to abortions. Prior to the court order, two of the nurses had been scheduled to participate this Friday in training that would include surgical abortions.

“Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to assist or train in services related to abortions. Federal and state law both prohibit this,” he said. “These 12 nurses have encountered threats to their jobs at this hospital ever since a policy change required them to participate in the abortion cases regardless of their religious and moral objections. The court’s order prevents that until the Nov. 18 hearing, but it is disturbing that the hospital may fight to continue violating laws that clearly protect conscience rights.”

The court order states that hospital officials “are restrained from requiring the named Plaintiffs from undergoing any training, procedures or performances relating to abortions pending the Court’s determination on the merits regarding the Plaintiffs’ Application for a Preliminary Injunction.” The order also prohibits any acts of employment discrimination against the nurses until that matter is resolved.

Federal law prohibits hospitals that receive certain federal funds from forcing employees to participate in abortions. UMDNJ receives approximately $60 million in federal health funds annually. In addition, New Jersey law states, “No person shall be required to perform or assist in the performance of an abortion or sterilization.”

The lawsuit requests that the hospital be ordered to obey these laws and to return part of the federal taxpayer money it has received in light of its violation of federal conscience laws.

In September, UMDNJ began telling Same Day Surgery Unit nurses that they must assist abortion cases. The hospital imposed the new policy in October and repeatedly threatened that they must assist abortions or be terminated. When one nurse objected to assisting abortion cases due to her religious beliefs, a supervisor responded that UMDNJ has “no regard for religious beliefs” of nurses who object to participating.

According to a copy of the complaint ADF sent LifeNews, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey was “demanding that the Nurses must assist abortions in violation of their religious objections or they will be terminated. Defendants have illegally coerced some of the Nurses to train to assist abortions already, and Defendants are presently scheduling the others to do so.”

“UMDNJ’s coercion of the Nurses is a blatant violation of federal and state law, which explicitly prohibit UMDNJ from penalizing employees including Plaintiffs because they object to assisting abortions,” the complaint says.

The nurses are asking the federal court to declare their rights under law and enjoin UMDNJ from continuing to mandate that they or similarly situated employees assist in abortions. Because UMDNJ’s federal tax funding is also conditioned on UMDNJ not discriminating against employees’ civil rights when they object to assisting abortions, the nurses also seek an order requiring UMDNJ to disgorge the nearly $60 million in federal health funding that it received in 2011. They also want an order requiring that UMDNJ be disqualified from receiving additional federal health funding unless and until it demonstrates compliance by ceasing its illegal coercion to assist abortions. Plaintiffs also seek statutorily authorized attorneys fees and costs, and other relief deemed appropriate by the Court.

Bowman said the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey had been doing abortions for decades without forcing nurses to assist, until recent weeks.

“The hospital passed a policy and put one of the nurses who did abortions in a supervisory position and started forcing nurses to assist in abortions out of the blue,” Bowman said. “It’s in complete violation of federal and state law – that says you can’t force people to assist abortions.”

Bowman told Fox News the hospital agreed to meet with the nurses but, when the nurses showed up to the meeting with legal counsel, the meeting was canceled.

“The hospital told the nurses they have no regard for their religious beliefs,” he said. “They were going to be assigned to these abortions or they would be terminated.”