Nurses Fight For Their Right To Refuse Women Care

Illustration for article titled Nurses Fight For Their Right To Refuse Women Care

A group of nurses have sued for their right to refuse to participate in abortions, citing their anti-choice stance as reason enough to decline to care for women who have elected to terminate a pregnancy. From the way the complaint describes it, you'd think they were being ordered to line babies up and shoot them with a crossbow in front of their children. But they're not being forced to help out with the procedure at all — nope, these nurses are citing their moral beliefs as justification for refusing to care for women before or after having abortions.


The Washington Post reports that in September, The University of Medicine & Dentistry's New Jersey hospital changed its longstanding policy that allowed nurses to opt out of participating in any step of a medical procedure based on their religious or cultural beliefs. While medical professionals employed by the hospital would still be allowed to perform specific procedures with which they disagreed, they'd no longer be allowed to excuse themselves from all steps of the procedure; that is, nurses who objected to abortions would now be required to provide pre- or post-surgical care. At the end of October, a group of nurses filed suit against University Hospital, claiming religious discrimination.

A lawyer for the hospital says that the procedures utilized in prepping patients for abortions or assisting their recovery was fairly run-of-the-mill; nurses weren't going to be required to say a Black Mass and then laugh gleefully while chanting "Huzzah for sluttery!" over the woman's fetal remains. No matter! Abortion is wrong, and thus the women receiving them don't deserve any sort of medical treatment. Twelve of the sixteen nurses who work in the hospital's same-day surgery unit have refused to participate in any stage of care for a woman terminating her pregnancy.

A judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the hospital from requiring nurses to receive training on pre- and post- abortion care, and on December 5th, a judge will hear their case. If the nurses in New Jersey are allowed to use religious or cultural beliefs as grounds to refuse to provide any care to any women terminating pregnancies, their case sets a strange precedent.

How far back could a health care provider's opposition to caring for women extend? If I had an abortion in 2007 and wanted to get a pap smear, could the nurse refuse to check my blood pressure in 2011? How about if I got in a car accident on my way home from having unprotected sex with a stranger? Could an ambulance driver refuse to transport me to a hospital?

Doctors in emergency rooms have no right to refuse to provide medical care to someone who overdosed on heroin, even though heroin is illegal and many people are morally opposed to its recreational use. They have to care for drunk drivers, even though driving drunk is both illegal and a pretty universally assy thing to do. Why, then, should a hospital be forced to bend over backwards to accommodate people's religious beliefs surrounding abortion, a legal medical procedure protected by the Constitution?

One of President Obama's early acts in the Oval Office was eliminating a Bush era expansion of an existing "conscience clause" law that allowed people who worked in health care facilities— from anesthesiologists to cafeteria workers— to refuse to provide care to women terminating pregnancies, or to anyone for any moral reason. Under the Bush law, medical professionals who morally objected to contraception, abortion, or any medical procedure were also under no obligation to provide a patient with a referral to someone who would be willing to help them. The rule's reversal means that Americans, for the most part, shouldn't have to deal with their doctor's kooky morality when they want to, say, get an IUD or vaccinate their child.


Put simply, because the University Hospital nurses' job is to help patients prepare for and recover from surgery, these nurses are asking for the right to not do their jobs. On what planet is this acceptable?

If medical professionals are going to insist on the right to refuse to do things at work that they find icky, perhaps people in other industries should do the same. I'm morally opposed to mandatory annual regulatory training and the word "webinar" is against my religion. Get on it, government.


New Jersey nurses charge religious discrimination over hospital abortion policy [WaPo]


Kat Callahan

Don't want to do the job? Go work for a hospital or private practitioner that under no circumstances has anything to do with abortion procedures. They do exist, right? Private Catholic hospitals, for one...