Vermont nurse allegedly forced to help with abortion despite religious beliefs

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under President Trump's administration, has accused a medical center of forcing a Catholic nurse to assist with an abortion even though doing so had been against her religious beliefs, the Atlantic reports. 

In a notice of violation that was sent last Wednesday, HHS officials alleged that the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) broke the law when it misled the nurse into participating in a procedure that she had repeatedly said she wanted no part in.

According to a complaint filed in 2018, the unidentified nurse had frequently told upper management that she did not want to help with abortions because they violated her conscience. One day, her supervisor purportedly told her that she would help treat a patient who had experienced a miscarriage. The nurse later learned, however, that she had been scheduled to take part in an elective abortion.

Fearing retaliation under a new policy that would have punished her had she refused to participate in an abortion while her team was short-staffed, the nurse reportedly agreed to help carry out the procedure. As she entered the patient's room, her boss allegedly told her, "Don't hate me." 

Following completion of the abortion, the nurse then reached out to the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative law firm that has close ties with the Trump administration. The firm then put her in touch with HHS officials, who, after an investigation, recently determined that UVMMC needed to change its staffing policy on abortion procedures, the Atlantic notes. The medical center now has less than 30 days to change its guidelines. 

"This is the first time we've ever represented somebody who was put in a position where she couldn't escape from it, even though her employer knew she was a conscientious objector," the nurse's lawyer, Francis Manion, told the magazine. 

For its part, UVMMC has dismissed HHS's investigation, claiming the agency "has no legal or regulatory authority to conduct the 'investigation'" and the Trump administration has denied "our repeated offers to discuss our carefully crafted policies and practices."

Still, Roger Severino, head of HHS's Office of Civil Rights, maintained, in an interview with the Atlantic, that his department has every right to protect religious freedoms, especially as they relate to abortion. 

"How could we countenance a situation where we allow a federally funded entity to force a medical professional to participate in taking a human life?" he asked. "That's what this case is about."

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