US agency: Hospital forced nurse to participate in abortion

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s largest hospital forced a nurse to participate in an abortion procedure over her moral objections in violation of federal law, a government civil rights agency said Wednesday.

The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington could lose some federal funding if the two parties cannot agree within 30 days on the hospital’s policies on employee participation in abortions, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced.

The nurse believed she would be participating in a procedure after a patient had suffered a miscarriage, office Director Roger Severino told reporters on a conference call. Instead, he said, she was told “‘Please don’t hate me’ by the doctor” when it became clear it was an abortion.

The nurse asked to be relieved during what Severino described as an elective abortion and was told no. Faced with the prospect of losing her job, Severino said, “she relented and has been traumatized ever since.”

The abortion took place in 2017, and the nurse filed a complaint with the civil rights office in May 2018. A subsequent investigation by the office “uncovered serious discrimination by UVMMC against nurses and staff who cannot, in good conscience, assist in elective abortion” in violation of federal laws known as Church amendments.

In a statement, the hospital said it was disappointed by the action of the civil rights office.

“The University of Vermont Medical Center has robust, formal protections that strike the appropriate and legal balance between supporting our employees’ religious, ethical and cultural beliefs, and making sure our patients are not denied access to safe and legal abortion,” the hospital said. “These protections cover initiation and cessation of life support, organ transplant, sterilization, and termination of pregnancy.”

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