In 2018, I wrote about “The New Federal Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” established by the Trump administration as a desperately needed help for those of us health care professionals whose conscience rights have been ignored or threatened and included a link to report complaints even online. Now in fiscal 2018 alone, the division says it has received and dealt with more than 1300 complaints.
Most recently and thanks to the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division and with help from the American Center for Law and Justice, an unnamed nurse who was forced into assisting in an elective abortion in 2017 has been vindicated.
On August 28, 2019, the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that, after a thorough investigation and attempts to resolve the issue, the OCR issued a Notice of Violation to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for forcing that nurse to assist in an elective abortion over her conscience-based objections and even though other nurses were available.
The OCR found that the UVMMC had discriminatory policies that assign or require employees to assist abortion procedures even after they record their moral or religious objections. UVMMC now must conform its policies to the long-standing Church amendments that protect the conscience rights of individuals or entities that object to performing or assisting abortions and take corrective action or “face potential action by the HHS from which UVMMC has received federal funding”.
The notice also noted that for the last 3 years UVMMC “reported that it cumulatively expended $1.6 million of federal financial assistance.”
The unnamed nurse, who no longer works at UVMMC, told the American Center for Law and Justice that she was misled into thinking she was assisting in a miscarriage but then found out that it was an elective abortion. However, her superiors “callously refused to relieve her”. Fearing retaliation, she went through with assisting the abortion and was traumatized.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice, at least four other nurses, have now confirmed that they had been subjected to similar violations of their conscience rights.
As the American Center for Law and Justice also noted, even though the Church amendments were enacted after the US Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, they always lacked a mechanism for enforcement by private citizens. Enforcement depended on the Health and Human Services department. Unfortunately that enforcement has, for all intents and purposes, been nonexistent until recently.
Now the new division has put some teeth into enforcement.
As I have written before, groups like Compassion and Choices (the former Hemlock Society) and Planned Parenthood have vehemently criticized the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, claiming that it would allow medical professionals “to impose their own religious beliefs on their patients and withhold vital information about treatment options” as well as “pave the way for discrimination against people for a variety of reasons.”
The fundamental right not to perform or assist in deliberate death procedures terrifies these organizations that depend on medical professionals willing to assist suicides or perform abortions.
Therefore, we must all make sure that the whims of politics never again interfere with the fundamental right of medical professionals to “Do no harm”. This is not only for their protection but also for our own.