Nurse: Hospital forced her to aid in abortion

  • CORRECTS DAY TO WEDNESDAY-The main entrance to the University of Vermont Medical Center shown on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. A federal agency says Vermont's largest hospital required a nurse to participate in an abortion over her moral objections. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke) Lisa Rathke

  • The main entrance to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vt., shown on Wednesday,, Aug. 28, 2019. A federal agency says Vermont's largest hospital required a nurse to participate in an abortion over her moral objections.(AP Photo/Lisa Rathke) Lisa Rathke

Associated Press
Published: 8/28/2019 11:15:54 PM

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont’s largest hospital forced a nurse to participate in an abortion over her moral objections in violation of federal law, a government civil rights agency said Wednesday.

The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington could lose some federal funding if the two parties cannot agree within 30 days on the hospital’s policies on employee participation in abortions, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced.

The nurse believed she would be participating in a procedure after a patient had suffered a miscarriage, office Director Roger Severino told reporters on a conference call. Instead, he said, she was told, “‘Please don’t hate me’ by the doctor” when it became clear it was an abortion.

The nurse asked to be relieved during what Severino described as an elective abortion and was told no. Faced with the prospect of losing her job, Severino said, “she relented and has been traumatized ever since.”

The abortion took place in 2017, and the nurse filed a complaint with the civil rights office in May 2018. A subsequent investigation by the office “uncovered serious discrimination by UVMMC against nurses and staff who cannot, in good conscience, assist in elective abortion” in violation of federal laws known as Church amendments.

In a statement, the hospital said it was disappointed by the action of the civil rights office.

“The University of Vermont Medical Center has robust, formal protections that strike the appropriate and legal balance between supporting our employees’ religious, ethical and cultural beliefs, and making sure our patients are not denied access to safe and legal abortion,” the hospital said.

Susan Berke Fogel, director of reproductive health at the advocacy organization National Health Law Program, said the Vermont case is missing details of what the nurse was being asked to do. The Health and Human Services Department, she said, has been expanding the definition of what it means to assist in abortion procedures.

“They are definitely highlighting and putting forward cases that will achieve that goal that anybody can refuse to participate in anything,” she said.

Federal laws protecting the rights of health workers who object to participating in abortions and some other procedures have been on the books for years. But religious conservatives who form a key part of President Donald Trump’s base have long complained they were not enforced.

Setting up the Health and Human Services “conscience office” last year was among a series of administration actions to address longstanding priorities of religious and social conservatives, who are key to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.


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