No one should be forced or coerced into participating in an abortion. Hospitals across the country are required to give their employees the opportunity to opt out of assisting with an abortion procedure out of respect for their religious and moral objections. Usually the personal beliefs of these employees are respected, but that wasn’t the case for one nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMC). 

She thought that she was just assisting with a dilation and curettage procedure related toiscarriage or another gynecological condition. Although dilation and curettage is most well-known for its use in abortions, it can also be utilized after a natural miscarriage to remove the rest of the remains and tissue. But when she walked into the room, the first thing the doctor said to her was “Please don’t hate me.” This wasn’t a post-miscarriage appointment, as she had been led to believe, but an elective abortion.

The nurse had made it clear previously through statements and in writing that she objected to assisting with an abortion on religious and moral conscience grounds. She wanted to refuse but felt that her job or her license could be in jeopardy. So, against her wishes and her conscience objections, she felt cornered and coerced to assist with the abortion and was “left deeply traumatized.” Four other nurses have reported similar situations.

Coercing a medical professional into assisting with an abortion is against Federal Health Care Provider Conscience Protection Statutes, which gives medical professionals the opportunity to “refuse to participate in specific medical procedures, including abortion and sterilization, and related training and research activities.” But according to a complaint filed by the nurse, UVMC has a history of putting medical professionals with conscience objections into compromising situations that would force them to participate in an abortion.

That’s when the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) got involved. Designed to ensure compliance with certain regulations, the OCR has also become a crucial support system for health care workers who want to make sure that their conscience and religious freedom rights are respected.

After a month’s long investigation, OCR announced that it found UVMC in violation of the nurse’s Conscience Protection Status. The investigation also found that the hospital has a history of “discrimination through certain employees, nursing leadership, and managers who expressed overt disregard or hostility to religious and moral objections to persons participating in abortions. … (Some) repeatedly revealed distain for individuals who expressed religious or moral objections to abortion.” 

According to the official notice of violation, UVMC has 30 days to work with ORC to “change its policies so it no longer requires health care personnel to participate in abortion against their religious or moral objections, and to take immediate steps to remedy the effect of its past discriminatory conduct.” The hospital objects to HHS and the Office of Civil Rights and claims that an internal investigation found no problems.

Medical professionals should have the right to refuse any procedure on the basis of moral or religious grounds—this especially true when it comes to abortion. The taking of another human life is an extreme serious matter, and it’s not fair for a physician to trap a nurse with conscience objections into helping with an abortion when there are other options available. Hopefully, this notice of violation will help hospitals and clinics around the country recognize that participation with an abortion is a choice and that religious and moral objections must be respected.