By Dave Andrusko
As we reported at the last minute last week twelve pro-life nurses reached a successful agreement with their employer, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, who they claimed in a lawsuit required them to participate in abortions or lose their jobs. U.S. District Judge Jose Linares “said he would continue to monitor the situation,” according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, “to make sure the spirit of the agreement–reached in several hours of negotiation this morning and afternoon–would be followed.”
All but four nurses in same-day surgery unit signed on to the lawsuit filed October 31 after being notified in writing that the hospital’s new policy would require same-day surgery unit nurses to assist in abortions.
Last week I asked the nurses’ lawyer, Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund, how he would describe the settlement: a “victory” he told National Right to Life News Today.
“It is a victory because the hospital finally agreed to obey the law and not force our clients to do any work on abortion cases in violation of their beliefs. The hospital agreed not to penalize our clients in any way because they choose to not help abortions, according to their legal rights. The hospital is required to fully staff all abortion cases so that our clients would never be needed for those cases, and the hospital cannot use pro-abortion staff to replace our clients or reduce their hours. The judge warned the hospital that our clients could return to his court if they were assigned to work abortion cases or if the hospital claims that routine abortions are emergencies. We hope that other hospitals will realize that they should agree to obey conscience laws that protect pro-life medical personnel.”
There are further details that are important to know, given the general climate of hostility to the conscience rights of pro-life health professionals.
Pro-life Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) was an early supporter of the nurses. He was part of a press conference in front of the hospital which helped raised the issue’s visibility (See www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2011/11/rep-chris-smith-joins-%E2%80%9Cnurses-of-conscience%E2%80%9D-at-press-conference.)
Smith issued a statement after the agreement which helps to put the issues and the resolution in context.
“The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s coercive abortion participation policy announced in September was a blatant violation of the rights of its health care professionals. The right to conscience is a federally protected fundamental right that cannot be abridged, undermined or violated in any way.
“Due to the brave voices of these 12 nurses and the diligent work of their attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, the hospital has finally agreed to respect their rights. The nurses may continue to provide compassionate life-affirming care without being complicit in the destruction of innocent human life.
“UMDNJ argues that sometimes so-called safe, elective abortions put women in life-threatening situations. When an abortion threatens to take the life of both the baby and the mom, the pro-life nurses have always been willing to step in, if needed, to preserve the life of the mother until the emergency code team arrives.
“Now it is the hospital’s responsibility to make sure respect for conscience is implemented through a hospital-wide policy without nuance, loopholes, ambiguity or small print. A durable, transparent and effective means of monitoring compliance with federally protected conscience rights must be put in place to ensure that no one at UMDNJ, including the nurses who asserted their federally guaranteed rights not to participate in any way in the killing of an unborn child are harmed, subjected to any discrimination or retaliated against now or at any time in the future.”
Bowman previously explained that a change in hospital policy came “out of the blue.” He told Fox News that the hospital “had been performing abortions for decades without forcing nurses to violate their religious beliefs.”
The hospital has steadfastly denied that it threatened to fire any of the nurses if they did not comply, which would be a violation of both state and federal law, and that it was demanding only that nurses “perform peripheral duties for abortion patients”—such as “logging information, drawing blood,” etc. But the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has never explained why it made the change. Which may explain why nurse Fe Esperanza Racpan Vinoya, one of the plantiffs, told the Associated Press “she was still nervous they would be transferred, have their hours cut or otherwise be punished for having sued.”
“I’m still scared about the part of them having four nurses brought in and we might become the surpluses,” Racpan Vinoya said, referring to the hospital hiring four nurses who do not object to assisting with the procedure.
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