By Guy Page
The University of Vermont Medical Center continues to defend an abortion provider who forced a pro-life nurse to participate in an abortion in 2018.
In a press release today, UVMMC said federal civil rights officials sent correspondence Dec. 11 and Dec. 14 “threatening with federal enforcement” the hospital’s failure to protect the nurse’s civil rights. UVMMC insists it was “in compliance” with federal non-discrimination regs when the incident happened, and has since strengthened an opt-out clause for conscience-stricken health care providers. It refuses to act further, saying “we have an obligation to provide access to safe and legal reproductive health care.”
An August 28, 2019 report by the federal Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services finds the hospital broke civil rights law by “by forcing a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over the nurse’s conscience-based objections.” OCR “also found that UVMMC has discriminatory policies that assign or require employees to assist abortion procedures even after they have recorded their religious or moral objections to assisting in the performance of such abortions.”
Neither hospital document describes what actually transpired that day. Here is blow-by-blow, reprinted verbatim from the August 28, 2019 complaint:
“UVMMC forced the nurse complainant to assist in an abortion against the nurse’s religious or moral objection. The nurse had expressed an objection for many years and was included in a list of objectors, but UVMMC knowingly assigned the nurse to an abortion procedure. The nurse was not told the procedure was an abortion until the nurse walked into the room, when the doctor—knowing the nurse objected to assisting in abortions—told the nurse, “Don’t hate me.” The nurse again objected, and other staff were present who could have taken the nurse’s place, but the nurse was required to assist with the abortion anyway. If the nurse had not done so, the nurse reasonably feared UVMMC would fire or report the nurse to licensing authorities.”
- UVMMC knew the nurse was on a “list of objectors” – but assigned her anyway.
- The nurse wasn’t told it was an abortion until she walked into the operating room.
- By saying ‘don’t hate me,’ the doctor knew of the conscientious objection.
- The nurse was required to proceed even though others present could have assisted.
Neither today’s UVM press release nor an employee letter from President Steven Leffler explain how abruptly forcing a nurse known to regard abortion as murder to choose between assisting with an abortion or risk losing her job is “in compliance.”
Despite UVMMC today calling such discrimination “exceedingly rare,” this was not an isolated incident.
As reported in the August 29 Vermont State House Headliners, four other nurses came forward to say they, too, had been subject to similar infringement of their civil rights: “Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) said at the 2:30 mark on the Fox & Friends segment: ‘This is not the only case. We now have four other nurses who are filing similar complaints with HHS.’”
In all likelihood, federal proceedings against UVMMC will end if/when the Biden administration takes over. If so, pro-life health providers at UVMMC must hope the hospital’s improved opt-out policies work as advertised.
“It is regrettable that the decision was made a few years ago by the UVM MC Board of Trustees to permit the state’s largest hospital to offer elective abortions,” Mary Beerworth, Executive Director of Vermont Right to Life, said today. “President and COO Steve Leffler should expect to have ongoing difficulty keeping abortion services separate when the same operating room is used for life saving surgeries.”
“Protecting the conscience of those members of the staff who refuse to be involved in any way with ending the life of an unborn baby should be paramount. Those who do not understand their objections should witness how an abortion at 20+ weeks gestation is performed,” Beerworth said. “It is important that the process of hiring staff at the UVM MC does not discriminate against medical personnel who object to abortion and other procedures that may violate their oath and their conscience.”