Justice Department defends health care workers from being forced to perform abortions

Vermont News

BURLINGTON, Vt. (NEWS10) – The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division filed a civil lawsuit in Vermont federal court against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for violating the “Church Amendments,” a federal anti-discrimination statute. That statute prohibits health care entities like UVMMC from discriminating against health care workers who follow their conscience and refuse to perform or assist with abortions. 

“No institution or person should force any health care provider to perform an abortion if doing so would violate the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. This kind of indecent coercion violates everything this country stands for,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Federal law protects health care providers from having to choose between their job and participation in what they sincerely believe is the taking of an innocent human life. Coercing people to perform abortions violates the law, and the U.S. Department of Justice will not stand for this shocking and outrageous attack against the right of all people in this free country to follow their conscience.” 

The United States’ complaint alleges that UVMMC violated the Church Amendments when it chose intentionally and willfully discriminate against a nurse who objected to participating in abortions based on her religious beliefs or moral convictions. Despite knowing about her objection, UVMMC deliberately scheduled this nurse to assist with an elective abortion while misleading her to believe the procedure did not involve an abortion.

Once the deceived nurse entered the procedure room, she learned the true nature of the procedure. After she repeated her objection, UVMMC reportedly refused to find a non-objecting nurse to take over, which forced the nurse to continue assisting in the abortion despite her well-known religious objection.

In response to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, Congress nearly unanimously enacted the Church Amendments, named for Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The Church Amendments prohibit grantees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from discriminating against health care personnel who “refuse[ ] to perform or assist in the performance of [an] abortion on the grounds that his performance or assistance in the performance of the procedure or abortion would be contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

The case originated from an investigation by HHS. HHS’s investigation found UVMMC in violation of the Church Amendments, and referred the violation to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement after UVMMC refused to voluntarily correct its illegal actions.

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