Trump admin says Vermont hospital unlawfully forced nurse to help with abortion

The Department of Health and Human Services building is seen in the evening in Washington Sunday, April 5, 2009. |

The Trump administration sent a violation notice to a hospital in Vermont for reportedly forcing a nurse to perform an abortion despite her conscientious objection to the procedure.

The Department of Human and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights announced Wednesday that the University of Vermont Medical Center violated a federal statute on conscience protection.

Specifically, the HHS Department cited the Church Amendments, a part of the United States Code created in the 1970s that protects individuals and entities opposed to performing abortions.

“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,” stated HHS.

“OCR’s Notice of Violation letter asks UVMMC to conform its policies to the Church Amendments and take other corrective action, or face potential action by the HHS component from which UVMMC has received federal funding.”

If the hospital does not amend their policies to conform to federal statutes within 30 days of receiving the notice, they may face the loss of federal funds.

Roger Severino
Roger Severino, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, speaks at the American Principles Project Foundation "State Lunch" held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 11, 2018. |

“Forcing medical staff to assist in the taking of human life inflicts a moral injury on them that is not only unnecessary and wrong, it violates longstanding federal law,” said OCR Director Roger Severino in a statement.

“We stand ready to assist UVMMC in changing its policies and procedures to respect conscience rights and remedy the effects of its discrimination.”

For their part, the UVMMC disputes the allegations of the unnamed nurse, with interim president Dr. Stephen Leffler telling NPR that “the allegations are not supported by the facts.”  

Dr. Leffler also told NPR that the hospital offered to meet with OCR to discuss how they handle matters of conscience and objections to performing abortions.  

“From the outset — and as recently as this month — we offered to discuss our policies and practices with them,” he continued.

“We asked to receive their advice on how those policies and practices could be improved consistent with our obligation to our patients. Unfortunately, OCR instead chose to proceed with this announcement today, as opposed to meeting with us to work to improve the policy together.”

The Medical Center also posted a statement on their social media accounts in response to the announcement, saying that they have “robust, formal protections that safeguard” the religious and ethical beliefs as well as patient access to “safe and legal abortion.”

“We do not discriminate against any employees for exercising their rights to opt out of procedures to which they object,” they insisted.

In May 2018, an unnamed nurse filed a complaint against UVMMC for allegedly forcing her to violate her religious beliefs by helping assist in an abortion procedure.

According to HHS, OCR contacted UVMMC about their policies on conscience protection, only to have the hospital refuse to cooperate.

Conservative groups like the Family Research Council applauded the actions of the Trump administration.

In a statement released Wednesday, FRC legislative assistant Connor Semelsberger explained that he supported this most recent example of the administration dealing with conscience concerns.

“This is now the third time under the Trump administration that HHS has investigated conscience violations, and we commend their effort to enforce laws that protect people's rights to live by their religious or moral beliefs in all areas of life, including their professional lives,” stated Semelsberger.

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