Life&Death

Hospital defends abortionist who pressured pro-life nurse

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.”

In summary:

  1. UVMMC knew the nurse was on a “list of objectors” – but assigned her anyway.
  2. The nurse wasn’t told it was an abortion until she walked into the operating room.
  3. By saying ‘don’t hate me,’ the doctor knew of the conscientious objection.
  4. 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.”

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18 replies »

  1. Absolutely disgusting! He is a bold faced liar to boot! I hope they lose miserably in court. This hospital knew full well what they were doing when they called on each of the nurses. To threaten someone with unemployment due to their deeply held religious beliefs can not be tolerated!

    • Apparently the hospital chooses to stone-wall and deny this abuse of the principled Nurse, rather than admit
      a scheduling mistake, just put a note in the Surgeons record and make appropriate apology.
      If someone considers abortion to be murder – then it wrong both legally and morally, for the hospital
      or a surgeon to order that person to assist in a murder.
      VERY blatant when others were readily available and apparently willing to assist
      Were they just truing to get rid of this nurse by creating a scene against her religious beliefs.

  2. I was a nurse for over 30 years and an Army Medic before that, so I understand fully what happened to this nurse. She needs to sue everyone connected with this case to make an example of this kind of arrogance and disrespect towards another human. This is uncalled for and should have never happened.

  3. You must know this is not the whole story. This case was investigated and was ruled lacking in foundation. In other words, she set it up to make the hospital look bad and to promote her RTL agenda. Your headline sensationalizes the article. You end with giving head of VT RTL the final word. Do not tell me this is fair, objective and unbiased reporting. Our VT legislators are taking a stand against this action. Will you report that? Another disgusting feature of this story: djt and his horror show have 34 days left before they leave, and they choose to spend the time on this piece of harassment?

    • Hello Jennifer –
      Thank you for your feedback. You raise many interesting points. If there is a report somewhere about her setting it up to make the hospital look bad, please forward it to me. I haven’t heard that. It somewhat strains credulity to think a pro-life person would premeditate participating in an abortion for any reason, but stranger things have happened, and if so I’d like to know.

      You do not explain how the headline sensationalizes the article. Is that not what the hospital is doing – backing the abortionist (that’s her specialty, right?) over the nurse?

      You are correct that the Right to Life quote takes the last two paragraphs. Please note however that the entire Leffler letter is reproduced in the front page photo, and that frequent reference is made to the press release. I’m sure if I counted the words pro-and-con, as some do with abortion-related news coverage, I would find the hospital’s word count far outweighs the RTL folks.

      Please tell me what action our legislators have taken – I’d be glad to report that, along with my (planned) coverage today of TJ Donovan’s statement, which was brought to my attention after the story ran yesterday.

      And you are correct in saying I am not unbiased. I oppose both abortion (with marginal exceptions) and workplace injustice for any employee, whether it’s a vital, in-demand worker like a nurse, or the counter person at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Injustice is injustice.

      Yes, I wondered too about the timing of the federal letter. I also wonder the same thing about the tone of the hospital’s response. Both have the feel of a divorcing couple trying to get in the last word against each other as one of them heads unwillingly out the door.

      I look forward to any more light you can shed on this story.

      Thanks
      Guy

      • The incident was first reported quite a long time ago. Leffler’s letter that opens your article states that the threats were/are baseless. That is my recollection from the intial reporting of this story. No policy was violated in the alleged incident.
        The letter states that the hospital has had and does have in place policies and practices that conform to federal guidelines.
        So what’s the offense you are trying to correct here?
        I think that is not your purpose. I think your intent is to drum up some outrage over the matters of abortion. That, when the real outrage to me is the fed government’s action to pursue this alleged incident at this time.
        It does not strain my credulity at all to think that RTL would engage in any tactics they can devise to undermine or obstruct legal provision of these women’s health care services.
        We know that RTL have actually murdered doctors who perform abortions for the sole reason that they did perform abortions. Surely I do not have to cite that.
        You call the physician an “abortionist.” I call her/him a health care physician. Your choice of label betrays your bias here. Given how infrequently termination of pregnancy requires a hospital setting, and how few terminations are performed there, I suspect that this physician is an Ob/Gyn with a broader practice than just terminations.
        I will try to find the letter from our VT legislators. I came to it when the entire letter, including signers, was posted on Facebook. I recall that Ann Pugh, a South Burlington representative, was one of the signers.
        Our federal government is in the middle of several extreme challenges, including the pandemic, the resulting economic crisis for millions, and a cyber attack. They should be concentrating on those urgent matters, and the transition of presidential authority. They choose to attack UVM Med? That is absurd. And at a time UVM medical is struggling with its own cyber attack? Doubly absurd.
        In 1972 I was one of the original board members who created the VT Women’s Health Center, the nations first free-standing offering abortions among its services. We were able to open in June 1972 because the VT Supreme Court over-ruled VT’s law on abortions a year before Roe. We held an open house for the press. I invited the editor of VT’s Catholic newspaper to our open house. He toured the facility respectfully. In his piece, he mentioned that the church opposed abortion. But far greater copy was given to the nice atmosphere of the facility, including the hand-sewn curtains. That was a different time.
        Since this incident happened so long ago, I think you could have chosen to investigate from other approaches. Did you contact the hospital to see how in fact it was resolved at the time? Did you ask if indeed there have been changes to hospital policy since? Did you ask if other incidents like this have occurred since?
        That would have been a more interesting and more credible story.
        Please announce your bias when you do have bias in your reporting.

      • The letter opposing the outgoing administration’s actions was posted on Ann Pugh’s FB page Dec. 16. It is signed by VT house and senate leaders.

    • Jennifer, can you outline your view of this incident. as opposed to the Nurse’s version.
      Was she scheduled for an abortion? Did the surgeon force her participation? Was she properly listed as opposed?

      • I wish I could give more detail to answer your question. I looked up the original coverage of this story. The articles say that the hospital investigated her claim and found it groundless. They also state that this person (unnamed) had left the UVM Med. I suspect that the hospital’s legal team weighed in on those statements. I note that this person has not pursued a suit against the hospital for violation of policy or for suffering emotional distress. I think then and now this was a stunt to play to the trump base and rile up the anti-abortion loyalists. I doubt that answer will satisfy people who want to believe that her rights were violated. More of the story has been covered in the Burlington Free Press and VT Digger.

  4. I think principles should take priority over keeping one’s job; the ensuing civil rights complaint against an employer must follow. At what point will employees refuse to do the bidding of their bosses (or anyone else, for that matter) when threatened? Would they cave when coerced, to commit other types of murder? Theft? Fraud?

  5. Does anyone know if this nurse is being supported by the diocese of Burlington or the nurses union @ UVMMC? Who do you write to to offer her support?

      • Letter to the editor? Where? I tried writing a letter to the editor at times Argus for 2 Republicans in my county a month before the November 3rd elections, times Argus censored my letter. They wouldn’t call me either. Even I’ve experienced 1st amendment violations. It appears that the first amendment is under attack. Thank God those Republicans won anyway. Good luck to that nurse!!!!

  6. Thank you Guy for showing Stephen Leffler’s E-mail. It is always informative to see the actual source. So often, reporters tell you something but they never back it up with proof.

  7. I would have walked out of the entire facility and started arranging job interviews elsewhere. I’m not afraid to lose my job over something like that.

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