Court: New Jersey Nurses Don’t Have to Assist in Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 23, 2011   |   10:55AM   |   Washington, DC

A federal court late Thursday gave pro-life advocates a huge victory in the case of 12 nurses being forced to assist with abortions at a New Jersey hospital.

The court held a hearing concerning a motion filed by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys on behalf of the nurses that asks the court to issue a preliminary injunction that would halt any efforts by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to coerce the nurses in violation of federal law while their lawsuit moves forward.

Under an agreement UMDNJ agreed to the nurses can remain in their current positions and not be pressured to assist in any part of an abortion procedure. The nurses are only required to help if a life-threatening emergency materializes with the mother involved in the abortion and no other non-objecting staff are available to assist and only until such a time as other can be called up on to relive them.

Fe Esperanza Racpan Vinoya, one of the plaintiffs in the case, told AP she was delighted by the decision but nurse Racpan Vinoya said she was still concerned the hospital would retaliate against her by transferring her or cutting hours.

“I’m still scared about the part of them having four nurses brought in and we might become the surpluses,” Racpan Vinoya said.

Matt Bowman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said he was pleased with the agreement.

“Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to assist or train in services related to abortions. Federal and state law both prohibit this,” said Bowman. “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. It is disturbing that the hospital is fighting to continue violating laws that clearly protect conscience rights.”

Edward Deutsch, an attorney for the hospital, said his client was pleased, saying, “I think it’s an appropriate resolution, and the hospital has been very accommodating.”

Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the ACLU, told AP she is upset by the decision because it allows nurses who don’t want to be forced to participate in abortions to discriminate against patients wanting them.

“No one should ever have to worry about facing discrimination when they check into the hospital,” she said. “No woman should have to fear that medical staff will place ideology over duty or deny her care.”

But Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who has been closely following the case, applauded the victory.

“UMDNJ’s coercive abortion participation policy announced in September was a blatant violation of the rights of its health care professionals,” said Smith in a statement to LifeNews.  “The right to conscience is a federally protected fundamental right that cannot be abridged, undermined or violated in any way.”

“Due to the brave voices of these 12 nurses and the diligent work of their attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, the hospital has finally agreed to respect their rights. The nurses may continue to provide compassionate life-affirming care without being complicit in the destruction of innocent human life,” Smith continued. “UMDNJ argues that sometimes so-called safe, elective abortions put women in life-threatening situations.  When an abortion threatens to take the life of both the baby and the mom, the pro-life nurses have always been willing to step in, if needed, to preserve the life of the mother until the emergency code team arrives.”

Smith continued: “Now it is the hospital’s responsibility to make sure respect for conscience is implemented through a hospital-wide policy without nuance, loopholes, ambiguity or small print. A durable, transparent and effective means of monitoring compliance with federally protected conscience rights must be put in place to ensure that no-one at UMDNJ, including the nurses who asserted their federally guaranteed rights not to participate in any way in the killing of an unborn child are harmed, subjected to any discrimination or retaliated against now or at any time in the future.”

Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey issued a temporary restraining order, with the hospital’s temporary consent, that prohibited the hospital from coercing the nurses until the court could consider whether to issue an additional order, which is the subject of Thursday’s hearing.

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.

As LifeNews has reported, some of the nurses in New Jersey who have faced pressure to do abortions at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have spoken out about their ordeal. One of the nurses, Fe Esperanza R. Vinoya, talked with the Washington Post and said a manager at the hospital told her: “‘You just have to catch the baby’s head. Don’t worry, it’s already dead.’”

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.