Nurses at a New York hospital will no longer be forced against their religious beliefs to participate in abortions, hospital officials announced late last week.
Mt. Sinai Hospital chose to change its policy to respect medical personnel’s objections to abortion following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The investigation came after Mt. Sinai Hospital nurse Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo filed a lawsuit 2009 claiming administrators forced her to help in a late-term abortion, violating her religious beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented Cenzon-DeCarlo in the case and argued that the hospital violated state conscience laws, as well as state laws against religious employment discrimination, and inflicted emotional distress.
In 2011, the Obama administration lowered the priority of conscience protections, allowing other rights, including patient access, to trump it. The government also took away conscience protections for medical personnel distributing emergency contraception.
Cenzon-DeCarlo said the hospital had known of her pro-life stance since 2004, yet still scheduled her to assist in a 22-week abortion on the grounds that it was an “emergency.” But the patient was not in crisis at the time, and when Cenzon-DeCarlo restated her religious objections, administrators threatened to charge her with “insubordination and patient abandonment,” which could lead to the loss of her job or nursing license.
Cenzon-DeCarlo said she suffered emotional and psychological trauma from being forced to help with the abortion, which included watching the doctor pull the bloody arms and legs of the baby from the mother’s body.
In 2010, ADF asked HHS to investigate the claim, which resulted in additional policy and procedure changes.
The new policy states that “It is the legal right of any individual to refuse to participate in these procedures” and refers to elective or emergency procedures. Mt. Sinai also agreed to abide by federal conscience protection laws, train employees about the laws, and update its Human Resource policy to say the hospital will not discriminate against potential employees who refuse to participate in abortions.
Similar conscience protection lawsuits have been filed in Illinois to allow pharmacists the right to refuse supplying abortion-inducing drugs such as Plan B because of their religious beliefs. The case dragged on for seven years before an appellate court agreed the state could not force pharmacists to supply the drugs.
Cenzon-DeCarlo’s suit is still ongoing, as it includes five other claims she made about her coerced participation in the abortion. But ADF attorneys believe the policy change is the first step in the right direction.
“Pro-life medical personnel shouldn’t be forced to participate in abortions, and the new policies and procedures at Mt. Sinai reflect that,” said ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman in a statement. “The hospital seems to have decided to do the right thing and respect the conscience rights of its employees, who are protected by both federal and state law.”