Hospital Forcing Nurses to Assist Abortions Now Targets Jobs

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 21, 2011   |   2:46PM   |   Trenton, NJ

A New Jersey hospital continues to threaten a dozen nurses with employment discrimination even after a court issued an order forcing the hospital to back down from putting pressure on the nurses to be involved in 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. 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.

The nurses spoke out last week about their plight, but their attorneys, the pro-life legal firm Alliance Defense Fund, say the hospital is placing renewed pressure on them.

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a motion for an emergency court order Friday against the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. In violation of an existing court order, UMDNJ is attempting to force the nurses into meetings that would impose discriminatory job “transfer” and other “changes” to their employment solely because of their objections to helping with abortions, the legal group tells LifeNews.

“These pro-life nurses shouldn’t be bullied into employment discrimination that is forbidden both by federal law and a court order,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The hospital is threatening to impose discriminatory transfers or changes in the employment conditions for these nurses because of their religious and moral objections to abortion. Such discrimination against pro-life nurses violates state and federal law, the court’s order in this case, and even the hospital’s own public statements saying that no nurse must assist in procedures to which they object.”

A letter from the hospital to the nurses requires them to attend mandatory meetings on or before Nov. 23 to discuss potential “changes in duties, changes in scheduling, and/or transfer to another nursing position….” A temporary restraining order issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on Nov. 3 prohibits the hospital from making discriminatory employment changes until the court has a chance to consider the case. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5.

The hospital’s letter frames the threatened changes as “reasonable accommodations,” but the ADF motion explains that, because conscience rights regarding abortion are paramount in the law, “the underlying laws in this case do not allow employers to negotiate ‘reasonable accommodations’ in the abortion context, and this Court’s Temporary Restraining Order does not either.”

ADF attorneys are asking for a new temporary restraining order that will prevent the hospital from forcing the nurses into meetings that impose changes to their employment. In addition, ADF is asking the court to hold the hospital in contempt of the court’s existing order.

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.

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.

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

“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.”

Demetrios K. Stratis, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance is local counsel in the case, Danquah v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Stratis is with the firm Ruta, Soulios & Stratis, LLP.