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Biden administration abandons defense of conscience

Justice Department drops a lawsuit against a hospital that forced a nurse to assist abortion

The University of Vermont Medical Center Associated Press/Photo by Wilson Ring

Biden administration abandons defense of conscience

A Trump administration policy of protecting the conscience rights of medical professionals appears at an end. The Department of Justice at the end of July quietly dropped a lawsuit against a Vermont hospital that allegedly forced a Catholic nurse to assist in an elective abortion.

The unnamed nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center told investigators at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that she told supervisors she could not assist in abortions due to her pro-life beliefs, yet they required her to do so anyway. HHS concluded the nurse’s rights had been violated, yet the hospital refused to cooperate.

Given the hospital’s unwillingness to resolve the matter, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division filed a lawsuit that accused the hospital of violating the federal Church Amendments, which forbid federally funded healthcare institutions from discriminating against employees who object to abortion.

The end of the lawsuit on July 30 came without comment by the Justice Department, yet religious liberty advocates had plenty to say. In an Aug. 3 article for National Review, Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office of Civil Rights during the Trump administration, called out the Justice Department for effectively giving the hospital a full pardon.

“Without so much as a slap on the wrist, this was a clear favor to abortion special interests and a spit in the face of not only the victim in the case, but the many medical professionals who have suffered conscience violations through the years and will continue to suffer,” wrote Severino, who is now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he heads the HHS Accountability Project.

Matthew Clark, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice who represented the nurse, told The Catholic Telegraph that the dismissal was plainly political. “This has now become an assault on those who are pro-life,” said Clark. “There was somebody else who could have stepped in, so this goes beyond being pro-abortion. This is anti-life.”

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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Laura W

I expect this will be yet another straw on the camel's back for many over-stressed, over-worked healthcare workers who are deciding whether to retire early or pursue a different career after everything they've had to deal with during this past year or so.

Deb O

“There was somebody else who could have stepped in, so this goes beyond being pro-abortion. This is anti-life.” Truth.