Nurses Speak Out About Pressure They Faced to Do Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 15, 2011   |   5:12PM   |   Trenton, NJ

Some of the nurses in New Jersey who have faced pressure to do abortions at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey spoke out yesterday at a press conference. They appeared with pro-life attorneys from Alliance Defense Fund and Congressman Chris Smith.

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. 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.

In their lawsuit, ADF says the facility receives federal health funds and it 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.

The hospital denies the nurses were pressured, but they said otherwise in their testimony Monday. One of the nurses, Fe Vinoya, had this to say:

Good afternoon. My name is Fe Vinoya and I am a nurse in the Same Day Surgery unit in the University hospital. Many of my colleagues are working now so they were unable to attend. But all 12 of us have dedicated our lives to helping patients. However, in October we were suddenly confronted with a choice between our faith and our jobs. We come from different backgrounds but we all have the same conviction that we do not want to help in the killing that happens in abortion.

Our managers told us very clearly that all Same Day Surgery unit nurses must immediately begin training in and assisting abortion patients, including all aspects of those patients’ care during their visit. They did this in spite of our repeated effort to tell them we had religious and moral objections. They said very clearly that if we did not assist we would face termination. There are only a handful of these cases every week, and for years the hospital simply paid nurses who were willing to do it. But in October they began forcing us to train to assist these cases, one or two nurses at a time, every Friday and sometimes on Wednesdays.

I, and all of us, were told we would be scheduled to assist these cases as soon as possible.

Several of us were forced to work these cases on Friday October 14, 21, and 28. Sharon was not even told until she showed up for work on October 28. She expressed her objection before the cases began, but the assistant manager told her that the hospital has no regard for her religious convictions and that she must assist. Then, even after we filed our lawsuit, the hospital scheduled Lorna and Julita to work the cases on November 4. The hospital’s attorney told our attorney that Lorna and Julita were “required” to assist parts of those cases even though they objected. Not until our attorney asked the court for an emergency order did the hospital concede that it would stop forcing us to assist, but only for a few weeks. Our attorney has repeatedly asked the hospital to agree that we will not be forced to assist abortions and related services if we have religious or moral objections. But the hospital has said it will not assure us that. The hospital has said it will not withdraw its requirement that we assist these abortion cases. And the hospital has said it will fight to lift the Court’s order in a few weeks so that we are no longer protected from the hospital’s command that we assist abortion cases.

The hospital has made statements to the media, saying that they don’t compel anyone to violate their religious beliefs, but this is false. I myself and all 12 of us have been told we must assist abortion cases even though we object. Several of us have been forced to assist already despite objecting. We and our attorneys have repeatedly asked the hospital not to force us to provide services on abortion cases, and the hospital has repeatedly said it will not back down and that we are required to assist.

No nurse should be forced to violate her religious or moral beliefs in order to keep her job. Nursing is a healing profession, and the law protects our right not to provide any services related to abortion. We are thankful that the Alliance Defense Fund and Mr. Stratis are standing by our
side to protect our rights. For a few weeks at least, we can sleep soundly at night knowing that
we also will be respected in our right to choose not participate in killing innocent lives.

Another nurse, Beryl Otieno-Ngoje, also faced abortion pressure:

Good afternoon. My name is Beryl Otieno-Ngoje and I am a nurse in the Same Day Surgery unit in the University hospital. I was shocked when our supervisors began telling us in October that we had to assist with abortion cases in violation of our religious and moral beliefs, or we would be subject to termination. I am a nurse so I can help to heal people, not help to kill.

No health professional should be forced to choose between assisting abortions or being penalized at work. I and the other nurses have a legal right not to assist with abortion cases. I joined this lawsuit because supervisors at University hospital said that they would require me to train and to assist
abortion cases in the upcoming weeks. The hospital has never changed that requirement, except for the temporary court order. The hospital is not speaking truthfully to the media when it says that it does not compel nurses to violate their beliefs.

Supervisors have explicitly told us we are required to assist abortion cases against our beliefs, and we have asked the hospital to change its position but they refuse to do so. The only thing stopping University hospital from again planning to make me to assist abortion against my beliefs is the court order in this case, and the hospital plans to fight that order.

I am grateful that the Alliance Defense Fund and Mr. Stratis have come to our aid in this case. The hospital should not be allowed to break the law, or to violate my legal right not to be forced to help kill babies in the womb.

Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, attended the press conference and made these remarks:

It is an honor and privilege to join these courageous “nurses of conscience” who at great risk of being fired, demoted or otherwise retaliated against, have asserted their fundamental civil rights guaranteed by both federal and state law by saying “no” to coerced participation in the killing of unborn children at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).

UMDNJ’s coercive anti-conscience policy is not only highly unethical but blatantly illegal.

Federal and state law couldn’t be clearer on this matter. Even the US Supreme Court that handed down Roe vs. Wade—the decision that legalized abortion on demand—said in 1973 in its companion opinion Doe v Bolton that “appropriate protection” was needed in America to ensure that “a physician or any other employee has the right to refrain, for moral or religious reasons, from participating in the abortion procedure” (Doe v Bolton 410 U.S. at 198) Congress immediately responded to the Supreme Court’s engraved invitation with enactment of the 1974 Church Amendment.

The Church Amendment makes absolutely clear that “ no entity ( and that includes UMDNJ) which receives a grant, contract, loan or loan guarantee under the Public Health Service Act, the Community Mental Health Centers Act, or the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Act may discriminate in the employment, promotion or termination of employment of any physician or other health care personnel or discriminate in the extension of staff or other privileges to any physician or other health care personnel…because he refused to perform or assist in the performance of… abortion on the grounds that his performance or assistance in the performance of …abortion would be contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions…”

To further protect conscience rights, the U.S. Congress enacted the Hyde-Weldon conscience law in 2005 that bars funds appropriated under the entire Health and Human Services Appropriations Act to any federal agency or program or to a state or local government if they engage in discrimination by violating conscience rights.

It should be noted that the relevant NJ statute states unambiguously that “no person shall be required to perform or assist in the performance of abortion… .”

New Jersey law further states that “the refusal to perform, assist in the performance of, or provide abortion… shall not constitute grounds for civil or criminal liability, disciplinary action or discriminatory treatment.”

In pursuit of an illegal and highly unethical policy to coerce its own nurses to participate in abortions including support activities such as pre- and post-procedure complicity in abortion, UMDNJ has not only imposed irreparable harm and suffering on its own nurses, but has willfully and recklessly put federal funding for the institution at risk.

Because the nurses recognize the innate value and dignity and preciousness of the child in the womb and have refused to participate or be complicit in an act of violence against a vulnerable child, they are punished.

Because the nurses have deep religious and moral convictions and believe women deserve better than abortion, they are punished.
Because the nurses are compassionate and care deeply for every human life, regardless of age or condition of dependence, they are punished.
The illegal and highly unethical policy of coercion by UMDNJ must cease immediately.