A dozen nurses in New Jersey are fighting for the right not to have to participate in abortions.
Under a new hospital policy, nurses in the “same-day surgery unit” at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey must participate in elective abortion cases even against their personal religious or moral objections. If ever there was a violation of conscience rights, this is it.
Myriad federal laws exist to protect the conscience rights of health care professionals, denoting their right not to have to “assist in the performance” of abortions or, indeed, to perform any religiously or morally objectionable procedure. The laws prevent the federal government, and state and local governments receiving federal funds, and even federally funded health entities, from discriminating against nurses or other providers who object to performing or assisting in the performance of abortion.
Yet the hospital is fighting back, asserting that as long as it does not compel their “direct” involvement in an abortion, the policy is beyond legal reproach.
It is easy to imagine a spirited debate over where the line should be drawn: If the nurses do not wield the instruments that actually kill the child, are they really participating? What if they hand them to someone else? What about sterilizing them? What if they are required to do prep work, such as assisting with anesthesia, or post-op and cleanup?
But it’s more than an academic exercise. The livelihood of real people is at stake. If the hospital policy is deemed legal, and the nurses cannot in good conscience comply, they lawfully can be fired. Indeed, their nursing careers—regarded more as a vocation than a job by many—may be harmed irrevocably. If they foreswear their beliefs in order to keep their jobs, their future at the hospital could be agonizing: One nurse was told, “You just have to catch the baby’s head. Don’t worry, it’s already dead.”
President George W. Bush issued regulations at the end of his term to strengthen and clarify conscience protection for health care professionals, including defining the specific meaning of important terms such as “assist in the performance.” The Bush regulations were embraced by many in the health care profession as a welcome bit of clarity, even as they were derided by the abortion lobby, which thrives, and relies, on murkiness and obfuscation.
In February 2011, President Obama rewarded his friends and repealed most of the Bush regulations, including gutting the sections that contained definitions for terms in federal conscience laws. In October, the New Jersey hospital instituted its new abortion policy and the nurses filed suit. They are represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, which obtained a temporary restraining order against the hospital in November. The hospital temporarily consented to the order, but will fight it at a hearing set for Dec. 22.
The hospital received $60 million in federal taxpayer funds this year, maybe more. As Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey stressed in a recent press conference, hospitals that receive certain federal funds may not force their employees to participate in abortions. A pesky lawsuit from a dozen nurses is one thing, $60 million dollars is quite another.
Where does the Obama administration stand? It has stated nothing publicly, but one has to wonder whether it quietly celebrated the hospital’s aggressive move. Remember, President Obama sees abortion very differently than do most Americans. Most see the elective abortion of more than a million children every year as a national tragedy. To Obama, it’s “essential” health care that should be paid for by the government. This was his promise to Planned Parenthood on the campaign trail, and gutting the Bush conscience regulations helps shift the paradigm ever closer.
Meanwhile, 12 courageous nurses stand athwart it and yell stop.