Hospital Forcing Nurses to Do Abortions Claims Otherwise

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 11, 2011   |   4:43PM   |   Washington, DC

A court has stopped a New Jersey hospital from forcing any of 12 nurses that sued it to participate in training or services related to abortions. Now, the hospital claims it never pressured the nurses to participate in the abortions.

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.

Now, Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel Matt Bowman says the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is attempting to “cover up its illegal insistence that nurses assist in abortions, in violation of their religious and moral beliefs.” He says the nurses filed suit on Monday, October 31, the hospital scheduled nurses Lorna Mendoza and Julita Ching to assist abortions that Friday, November 4, prompting ADF to push for the court order.

But, on November 2, Bowman says the hospital wrote in an email through their attorneys:

Please be advised that the plaintiff-nurses named in the above-referenced lawsuit are not required to assist in abortion procedures. Rather, they are required to provide patients who have elected to terminate their pregnancies with pre-operative care (not including the administration of induction medications), and postoperative care. The pre- and post-operative care provided to these patients is of the same nature as that provided to patients who have undergone other surgical procedures. In short, UMDNJ is in full compliance with the laws cited in your email. Also, the November 4, 2011 training to which your email refers is training relating to pre- and postoperative care procedures and not, as you state, training relating to “assisting abortions.”

“This e-mail is incorrect in several respects,” Bowman says. “For starters, the nurses have indeed been required to assist during abortions and not merely “pre-” and “post-” (including when the hospital gives women Cytotec to induce labor and then leaves the women in the nurses’ pre-operative care during the delivery-abortion). Also, federal law (42 U.S.C. 300a-7(c)(2)) very explicitly gives the nurses the right to opt out of assisting with any service they object to, whether pre-abortion, post-abortion, or otherwise.”

“But take careful note of what UMDNJ’s attorney does say in the e-mail about the nurses: “they are required to provide patients who have elected to terminate their pregnancies with pre-operative care (not including the administration of induction medications), and postoperative care.” “They are required.” The nurses object to these activities on religious and moral grounds, but according to UMDNJ’s lawyer, “they are required” anyway,” Bowman explains.

“Because of this e-mail, later that Wednesday, ADF asked the court for an emergency injunction to save Lorna and Julita from being forced to assist abortion cases that Friday. On Thursday afternoon, the hospital conceded, but only temporarily, and it is now paying its lawyers to fight to lift the order at an upcoming hearing,” the pro-life attorney continues.

The process, Bowman explains, has put UMDNJ in a bind because its illegal “requirement” threatens tens of millions of dollars of UMDNJ’s tax funding annually and puts it outside federal law. To seek to cover its tracks, Bowman says the hospital is now lying about whether the nurses were ever threatened with assisting in abortions:

No nurse is compelled to be present for, to participate in the performance of, or to perform, a procedure to which she or he objects on religious or moral grounds. UMDNJ strictly adheres to both federal and state law in this regard.

No nurse is compelled to have direct involvement in, and/or attendance in the room at the time of, a procedure to which she or he objects based on his/her cultural values, ethics and/or religious beliefs.

Bowman responds: “Remember: UMDNJ’s attorney told ADF very clearly on Wednesday, Nov. 2, that Lorna and Julita “are required” to perform pre- and post-abortion activities even though they expressed religious and moral objections to doing so, and we had to get a court order to stop it.”

“But once the media began asking UMDNJ about their illegal behavior, they lied to cover it up. As of the time of this writing, UMDNJ still will not tell ADF attorneys if it has backed off from its Nov. 2 directive requiring nurses to assist,” he said. “If not for the court’s restraining order, each one of these 12 nurses would have to go into work and face supervisors that would be telling them they cannot object to providing services on abortion cases and will be penalized if they do so. UMDNJ’s attorney said the same thing. Yet in the media UMDNJ is claiming that no nurse has to perform activities she objects to. If it were you, would you believe your boss telling you that you will be fired, or would you believe your boss’s public-relations department telling the newspaper that you won’t be fired?”

In his National Review piece, Bowman concludes: “UMDNJ needs to either admit that it is breaking the law or assure its nurses that it believes its own press releases and will actually stop requiring the nurses to assist with activities related to abortion.”

Bowman previously 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.