by VT Attorney General TJ Donovan
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office continues to stand with the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center in its opposition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’s) unwarranted issuance of a notice of violation in August 2019 based upon UVM Medical Center’s decision to offer elective abortions and its Conflict of Care policy. A conflict of care policy is a medical center’s policy regarding instances in which a medical provider may wish to remove themselves from a procedure due to religious or moral conflicts.
In contrast to HHS’s notice of violation, UVM Medical Center’s Conflict of Care policy presents a reasonable balance between honoring the religious objections of its employees and its obligation to provide essential health care to patients in predominately rural communities with limited access to providers.
Significantly, HHS’s notice of alleged violation against UVM Medical Center continues to raise serious constitutional concerns as an attack against the long-established, fundamental right to access abortion services. It also presents serious constitutional issues in light of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forms the principle of separation of church and state.
Abortion is legal and constitutional. HHS’ latest threat of enforcement action represents a last-ditch effort by the Trump Administration to restrict a woman’s access to abortion—a theme that has permeated throughout Donald Trump’s presidency.
Last year, my office joined a coalition of 22 other states and cities suing to stop the Trump Administration from jeopardizing patient care by vastly expanding the ability of any health care worker to opt out of any procedure at any time, without regard for patient needs. The court agreed with our coalition and blocked the rule from taking effect because it was contrary to laws passed by Congress. The court’s decision means that the Trump Administration’s attack on UVM Medical Center stands on shaky legal ground at best.
My office has been, and remains, committed to protecting access to health care for all Vermonters, including abortion services.
(Editor’s note: Attorney General Donovan was honored in October, 2019 as a “state sexual and reproductive champion” by the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund Independent Expenditures PAC.)