The Trump administration today announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center, which forced a nurse to kill a baby in an abortion. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the lawsuit today as part of its efforts to protect health professionals from being forced to participate in abortions.
In 2017, a Vermont nurse who is forced into participating in an abortion that went against her deeply held religious beliefs because she opposes killing unborn children.
The lawsuit maintains that the public university hospital violated federal law. The Church Amendment, federal law enacted in the 1970s after the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court rulings, prohibits hospitals funded by the Public Health Service Act from discriminating against doctors and nurses who refuse to participate in abortion. The Church Amendment protects abortion-related conscience rights of both individuals and institutions.
In a Complaint, the ACLJ legal group indicated that its client, an operating room nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) in Burlington, was coerced into assisting in an abortion in 2017 even though her name was on a list of nurses who, for religious or moral reasons, were conscientiously opposed to assisting abortions and even though other non-objecting nurses were available who could easily have taken her place.
“In the more than two decades of work that ACLJ has done to defend the rights of conscience of pro-life health care workers, this is by far the most outrageous case we’ve ever seen. Our client’s most fundamental beliefs about the sanctity of life were simply brushed aside,” said ACLJ lead attorney Jay Sekulow.
“Worse, her superiors deliberately misled her into thinking she was assisting in a procedure following a miscarriage. But once trapped inside the OR she discovered that it was, in fact, an elective abortion and that this had been known all along by her superiors who then callously refused to relieve her. To say that she was emotionally traumatized by this event is putting it mildly,” he continued.
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Previously , HHS has referred the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for enforcement after a thorough investigation of UVMMC’s violation of the conscience protection laws. OCR concluded that UVMMC unlawfully forced a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over the nurse’s conscience-based objections and has refused to change its policies to prevent future coercion. As a result of the referral, DOJ is suing UVMMC on HHS’s behalf.
“Under President Trump, HHS has worked like never before to enforce laws Congress has passed to protect Americans’ religious freedom and conscience rights,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The University of Vermont Medical Center violated federal conscience laws and refused to work with us to take corrective action, so we are now taking action to hold them to account.”
Roger Severino, OCR Director said, “Entities that receive HHS funds should think twice before flouting federal law and refusing to come into compliance. As a result of our actions today … UVMMC will have to answer for its conduct in court. Whatever one thinks of the legality of abortion, no one should be punished for declining to pay for or assist in the taking of human life.”
The head of the Christian Medical Association told LifeNews.com that that he appreciated the lawsuit.
“As our national polling has proven, our members have experienced rampant discrimination for simply honoring the life-honoring Hippocratic and faith-based principle of protecting human life and never intentionally taking a life,” noted CMA Senior Vice President for Bioethics and Public Policy Dr. Jeffrey Barrows, an OB/Gyn physician. “These actions taken by HHS are essential to ensuring that no one is forced to participate in abortion against his or her conscience.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the pro-life group SBA List, also praised the Trump administration.
“By prioritizing life and conscience, President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Azar, Attorney General Barr, and Director Severino have set the standard for future pro-life administrations. Under their strong leadership, life is truly winning in America. Federal conscience laws are more essential than ever at a time when pro-abortion Democrat-led states have tried to force health care professionals and entities, like nurses and insurance providers, to participate in abortion. Abortion is not health care; it is the destruction of innocent human life,” she told LifeNews.com.
On May 11, 2018, a nurse at UVMMC filed a conscience and religious discrimination complaint with OCR against UVMMC, a medical center in Burlington, Vermont that receives grant funds from HHS, contending that the nurse was forced to assist in an abortion procedure in violation of the nurse’s conscience rights.
Although UVMMC could have readily, and without interruption to patient services, accommodated the religious or moral objections to elective abortion of its health care personnel, UVMMC has nevertheless illegally assigned numerous objecting personnel to such procedures. In violation of the plain language of the Church Amendments, UVMMC’s “conflict of care policy” reserves the right to disregard nurses’ expressed religious or moral objections to participating in abortion procedures.
Upon concluding its investigation, OCR issued a Notice of Violation letter – PDF on August 28, 2019, asking UVMMC to conform its policies to the Church Amendments and take other corrective action; however, UVMMC has refused to voluntarily comply with federal law and its contractual obligations as a federal grant recipient. HHS has referred the matter to DOJ, which filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont on behalf of HHS, seeking a court order requiring UVMMC to comply with the Church Amendments and uphold its contractual obligations.