As we all know from politics, and from our childhood, real trouble comes not so much from breaking the rules but from lying to cover it up. Yet that’s exactly what the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is doing to cover up its illegal insistence that nurses assist in abortions, in violation of their religious and moral beliefs.
Twelve nurses represented by ADF sued UMDNJ because, in October, it began forcing them to assist abortion cases. UMDNJ’s coercion is illegal, and it jeopardizes about $60 million that UMDNJ receives annually in federal tax dollars.
When the nurses filed suit on Monday, Oct. 31, the hospital scheduled Lorna Mendoza and Julita Ching to assist abortions that Friday, Nov. 4. So the Alliance Defense Fund immediately wrote to the hospital’s attorneys and asked that they back off. On Wednesday, Nov. 2, their attorneys responded with this e-mail:
Please be advised that the plaintiff-nurses named in the above-referenced lawsuit are not required to assist in abortion procedures. Rather, they are required to provide patients who have elected to terminate their pregnancies with pre-operative care (not including the administration of induction medications), and postoperative care. The pre- and post-operative care provided to these patients is of the same nature as that provided to patients who have undergone other surgical procedures. In short, UMDNJ is in full compliance with the laws cited in your email. Also, the November 4, 2011 training to which your email refers is training relating to pre- and postoperative care procedures and not, as you state, training relating to “assisting abortions.”
This e-mail is incorrect in several respects. For starters, the nurses have indeed been required to assist during abortions and not merely “pre-” and “post-” (including when the hospital gives women Cytotec to induce labor and then leaves the women in the nurses’ pre-operative care during the delivery-abortion). Also, federal law (42 U.S.C. 300a-7(c)(2)) very explicitly gives the nurses the right to opt out of assisting with any service they object to, whether pre-abortion, post-abortion, or otherwise.
But take careful note of what UMDNJ’s attorney does say in the e-mail about the nurses: “they are required to provide patients who have elected to terminate their pregnancies with pre-operative care (not including the administration of induction medications), and postoperative care.” “They are required.” The nurses object to these activities on religious and moral grounds, but according to UMDNJ’s lawyer, “they are required” anyway.
Because of this e-mail, later that Wednesday, ADF asked the court for an emergency injunction to save Lorna and Julita from being forced to assist abortion cases that Friday. On Thursday afternoon, the hospital conceded, but only temporarily, and it is now paying its lawyers to fight to lift the order at an upcoming hearing.
In the meantime, however, UMDNJ found itself in a bind. Its illegal “requirement” threatens tens of millions of dollars of UMDNJ’s tax funding annually, and besides that, UMDNJ’s actions are lawless. So how did UMDNJ’s public-relations department respond? They decided to lie about it, claiming that no one is required to assist in any objectionable procedure. UMDNJ spread the following statements to media outlets nationwide:
No nurse is compelled to be present for, to participate in the performance of, or to perform, a procedure to which she or he objects on religious or moral grounds. UMDNJ strictly adheres to both federal and state law in this regard.
No nurse is compelled to have direct involvement in, and/or attendance in the room at the time of, a procedure to which she or he objects based on his/her cultural values, ethics and/or religious beliefs.
Remember: UMDNJ’s attorney told ADF very clearly on Wednesday, Nov. 2, that Lorna and Julita “are required” to perform pre- and post-abortion activities even though they expressed religious and moral objections to doing so, and we had to get a court order to stop it.
But once the media began asking UMDNJ about their illegal behavior, they lied to cover it up. As of the time of this writing, UMDNJ still will not tell ADF attorneys if it has backed off from its Nov. 2 directive requiring nurses to assist. Yet UMDNJ continues to tell the media that no nurse is so required. UMDNJ even has the nerve to claim, “Statements in the media by an attorney identified as representing the interests of nurses employed by UMDNJ are not accurate.”
If not for the court’s restraining order, each one of these 12 nurses would have to go into work and face supervisors that would be telling them they cannot object to providing services on abortion cases and will be penalized if they do so. UMDNJ’s attorney said the same thing. Yet in the media UMDNJ is claiming that no nurse has to perform activities she objects to. If it were you, would you believe your boss telling you that you will be fired, or would you believe your boss’s public-relations department telling the newspaper that you won’t be fired?
Stop the lies, UMDNJ. If you are telling the truth that “no nurse is compelled” to work abortion cases, then assure the nurses of that truth and withdraw your directive telling them that “they are required” to assist. Or, if you are continuing to require them to assist abortion cases, then stop lying to the public by saying that no nurse is compelled to perform practices she objects to.
UMDNJ needs to either admit that it is breaking the law or assure its nurses that it believes its own press releases and will actually stop requiring the nurses to assist with activities related to abortion.
— Matt Bowman is legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the 12 nurses who filed suit against UMDNJ.