By Rep. Diane Black (R-TENN.) and Sandra Rojas
Editor’s Note. This first appeared in The Hill.
“I solemnly swear to do no harm.” We took this oath more than 40 years ago when we became nurses. We chose this career—more accurately, this calling—because it was the ultimate realization of what was in our hearts. Our love for women and children … our desire to serve those who are sick and in need … our passion to come alongside the most vulnerable in our midst with care and compassion. The oath reflects our commitment to safeguard all life.
In serving our patients, we’ve witnessed firsthand the beauty and dignity of life at all stages. We’ve watched new life enter the world, and we’ve comforted families as they’ve said goodbye to those they dearly loved. These experiences only reinforced our belief that all life is sacred and worthy of protection.
There are many other doctors, nurses, and medical professionals across the country who share our commitment to never end the life of another person. And millions of patients are thankful that there are health care professionals who share their values and belief that all life—including the child in her mother’s womb—should be respected and protected.
Unfortunately, the government has failed both health care professionals and the patients they serve. Rather than fulfilling its legal obligation to protect conscience, it has instead sought to coerce health care professionals to violate their conscience and participate in procedures that end life.
One of us has experienced this firsthand.
Sandra worked for 18 years at the Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Ill., serving children in need. In 2015, the county’s new public health administrator decided to merge the pediatric clinic with women’s services and mandated that all nurses begin providing abortion-inducing drugs and abortion referrals. When Sandra informed the county of her conscientious objection to participating in any way in the provision of abortions, the county fired her.
Sandra’s termination had nothing to do with her performance. The new administrator admitted she was a good nurse. But the county fired Sandra anyway based solely on her religious convictions—and her commitment to the Hippocratic oath—that prevent her from taking a person’s life.
Sandra’s termination hurt the medical profession and the individuals it exists to serve. Sandra’s patients lost the nurse that had been caring for them and their families for several generations.
And it cost Sandra as well. As a result of being wrongfully terminated, Sandra lost her primary source of income, her insurance, and her ability to support her family. She couldn’t help her son pay for college, so he had to delay pursuing his dream of being in health care and following in his mother’s footsteps. Sandra could no longer keep her promise to her daughter to pay for her grandchildren’s education.
Sandra’s experience is not unique. In recent years, the government has discriminated against nurses and other health care professionals across the country—including in Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee—who could not participate in taking the life of another human person.
That is why Congressman Black introduced the Conscience Protection Act. The Conscience Protection Act simply codifies long-standing conscience protections that prohibit a hospital or health care facility that receives federal funding from discriminating against a health care professional for their commitment to protecting life. It also ensures that nurses like Sandra will have legal recourse to pursue justice in court if the government attempts to fire or otherwise discriminate against them because of this commitment.
Sandra and every American should be free to live consistent with their beliefs without fear of government punishment. This is the backbone of America—the government’s respect for every person’s freedom of conscience. And those in the medical field should be treated no differently.
While we may not all agree on abortion, we should agree that no doctor or nurse should be forced out of the medical profession due to their beliefs about abortion. Our commitment to “do no harm” shouldn’t disqualify us from serving in health care.
Indeed, protecting conscience strengthens diversity and fosters a healthy society where there is respect for every health care professional and for the patients they serve.
Congress must act now to protect Americans’ civil rights and include the Conscience Protection Act in the final Fiscal Year 2018 spending bill. One American health care professional’s conscience violated is one too many.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black represents the 6th district of Tennessee. Sandra Rojas is an Illinois pediatric nurse forced to resign from the Winnebago County Public Health Department because she couldn’t participate in abortion.
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