Politics & Policy

Trump Administration Warns Vermont Hospital against Forcing Catholic Nurses to Assist with Abortion

A woman receives an ultrasound during a prenatal exam. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

The Trump administration sent a warning notice Wednesday to the University of Vermont Medical Center for forcing a Catholic nurse to assist with an abortion, an assignment that violated her conscience.

Unless the hospital verifies within 30 days that it will not require health-care professionals to perform duties to which they morally object, the Health Resources and Services Administration will begin a review.

The nurse, who filed a conscience and religious-discrimination complaint in May of last year, had reportedly expressed her objection to abortion for many years. On the day of the incident, she was scheduled to assist with dilation and curettage, a procedure used for both miscarriages and abortions in which the contents of the womb are surgically removed. She believed she’d be assisting with a miscarriage, to which she had no objection.

When she entered the operating room, the doctor performing the procedure allegedly said “Don’t hate me,” knowing of the nurse’s religious beliefs, making clear that they’d be performing an abortion. The nurse objected to the assignment but eventually backed down and assisted with the procedure, fearing she would otherwise be fired or reported to licensing authorities.

“It was clear what was going to take place was the taking of a live human person,” Office for Civil Rights director Roger Severino told reporters Wednesday. “She relented and has been traumatized ever since.”

The hospital has “refused to conform its policies to federal conscience laws” after being contacted repeatedly by the Office for Civil Rights, according to the notice.

The administration said it is also aware of other health-care professionals at UVMMC who have been “intentionally, unnecessarily, and knowingly scheduled” to participate in abortions since 2017.

The hospital’s staffing policy violates federal conscience protections collectively known as the Church Amendments and “admits to circumstances where UVMMC can and will force staff—on pain of adverse action or discipline—to participate in abortions against their moral or religious objections,” the administration said.

The University of Vermont Medical Center has been awarded federal funding since 1998 and received $1.6 million over the last three years, the administration said. That money could now be in jeopardy due the the hospital’s violation of conscience laws.

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