December 18, 2020
Trump's DOJ: Religious Freedom and Conscience Must Be Defended

Trump's DOJ: Religious Freedom and Conscience Must Be Defended

By FRC's Mary Szoch

On December 16, the Trump administration's Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for violating federal conscience protections known as the Church Amendments. DOJ is suing UVMMC for discriminating against multiple employees who stated that they did not wish to participate in abortions because of their religious beliefs.

Though UVMMC displayed a pattern of discrimination against employees refusing to participate in abortions, there is a particular case that began the investigation into this hospital. After beginning her job at UVMMC in 2008, one particular nurse (identified as "Nurse 1" in court documents) learned that the hospital performed medically necessary abortions, and so, she placed her name on the "objector list" demonstrating that she objected to participating in ANY abortions. The hospital had a history of accommodating nurses who requested not to assist in certain procedures. For example, UVMMC respected the wishes of nurses who requested not to care for an intoxicated driver who killed five people, as well as the wishes of nurses who requested to not assist in procedures with certain doctors who made the nurses feel uncomfortable. Yet, when it came to personnel who did not want to participate in abortions, UVMMC decided that was far too great of an accommodation. Repeatedly, nursing managers and other employees in leadership expressed open hostility towards those on the "objector list," and so, it is not shocking that eventually, Nurse 1 was scheduled to assist in an abortion.

In 2017, Nurse 1 was led to believe she was assisting in a procedure that did not involve aborting a child. She was wrong. It would be nice to think that the nurse scheduler and doctor performing the abortion had no idea that Nurse 1 was a conscience objector, but that was not the case. As Nurse 1 walked into the operating room, the doctor -- who was already mid-procedure -- looked at her and said, "Please don't hate me." When Nurse 1 requested that a non-objecting available nurse assist with the procedure instead, the nurse scheduler denied her request leaving Nurse 1 with the choice of assisting in the procedure or leaving -- placing her job and the patient's health in danger.

Discussing DOJ's recently-filed case with Tony Perkins on "Washington Watch," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband pointed out, "that kind of dishonesty, as well as that kind of lack of respect for her religion and her religious faith -- it goes against everything this country stands for." True, but apparently not against everything UVMMC stands for.

If this happened on just one occasion, UVMMC could argue that dishonesty and lack of respect for religious beliefs is not a hospital-wide problem, but simply an issue of a nurse scheduler or other individuals. But, as Eric Dreiband stated, "we are alleging that this is part of an overall pattern by the defendant in that case to do it not just to this individual on one occasion, but to do it over and over and over." In fact, UVMMC scheduled approximately 10 nurses whose names were on the "objector list" for approximately 20 abortion procedures, and UVMMC's 2018 policy allows the scheduling of a conscientious objector to assist with abortions even when the objector objects in advance or in writing. The "objector list" seems more like a list of people to target for ridicule and discrimination.

In response to the lawsuit, Stephen Leffler, M.D., President and Chief Operating Officer of UVMMC, said, "OCR's latest threats are not just baseless from a legal standpoint, they're an attack on reproductive care, and we will do everything we can to protect our patients' access to the services they need." It is abundantly clear that UVMMC does not consider unborn children patients -- and that as an institution, they won't stand up for the basic rights of any employee who does.

The Update will resume publication in January 2021. To stay informed on the latest issues affecting faith, family, and freedom during the holidays, be sure to tune in to "Washington Watch with Tony Perkins."