Before October 2011, Lorna Mendoza and her nurse colleagues at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey served patients every day in the same day surgery unit without any hint that the hospital’s respect for the nurses’ religious beliefs was about to come crashing down around them.
But a few weeks ago the hospital suddenly announced it was imposing a new policy under which all same-day surgery unit nurses must assist in abortions or be terminated.
Twelve nurses represented by the Alliance Defense Fund have responded by filing a lawsuit to have the new policy overturned. And yet the hospital is planning to force Lorna and her colleague Julita Ching to assist abortions this Friday, Nov. 4, despite the hospital’s crystal-clear legal obligations not to coerce them.
Federal and state laws both prohibit forcing any health-care employees to take part in abortions.
For example, federal law prohibits hospitals that receive certain federal funds from forcing employees to participate in abortions (and UMDNJ receives approximately $60 million in federal health funds annually). Additionally, New Jersey law states, “No person shall be required to perform or assist in the performance of an abortion or sterilization.”
Yet when one of the twelve nurses objected to assisting abortions on the grounds of her religious beliefs, a supervisor responded that UMDNJ has “no regard for religious beliefs” of nurses who object to participating in abortions, even though the supervisor admitted that the abortions are elective.
The hospital’s message to these nurses, in not quite so many words, is “You’re going to help kill these pre-born children whether you want to or not.”
Forcing pro-life nurses to assist in performing abortions is flatly illegal. It is coercion in the strongest sense of the word, and UMDNJ has taken upon itself the job of penalizing employees because they object to assisting abortions.
What’s wrong with not wanting to kill a pre-born child? And why must everyone take part in killing pre-born children “or else”?
Some try to answer and say that it’s part of the job and the nurses just need to get used to it. But it’s not part of the job and never was. Federal and state law both made that clear very quickly after Roe v. Wade imposed abortion on the United States. There is nearly universal legal consensus that it is wrong to force people to assist abortions, and the Supreme Court has said so itself.
ADF is not only seeking a reversal of UMDNJ’s new policy, but is also asking the court to order the hospital to return a portion of the millions of federal dollars they’ve received. The money came with known and justifiable strings attached, but UMDNJ is obviously trying to break its public promise not to discriminate, and to get away with it.
The court needs to make sure such lawless hospitals understand that things just don’t work like that in a free society.
— Matt Bowman is legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the twelve nurses who filed suit against UMDNJ.