The Biden Administration took a little discussed but significant action this month in dropping a lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center for allegedly forcing pro-life nurses to participate in abortions. It is not clear if the Biden Administration believes that pro-life nurses can be forced to participate in procedures that they consider to be immoral. However, it is clear that they are not willing to protect those religious views in this important action despite the faith-based claims under federal law. Indeed, the nurse believed the procedure constitute murder of the unborn and the Trump Administration agreed that she should be able to decline.
According to the prior findings letter, the medical center refused the request of the nurse to excuse herself from the abortion procedure. Other nurses were all allegedly forced to help despite such objections. There was no evidence that the Center could not accommodate the religious objectors by using other nurses.
During the Trump Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asked the DOJ to investigate the matter as a civil rights violation. However, Biden Secretary Xavier Becerra asked for the investigation and lawsuit to be terminated.
The HHS told Fox News:
After a detailed evaluation of the underlying legal theory used to issue a referral to the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services withdrew the original referral and requested DOJ dismiss the suit against the University of Vermont Medical Center, a request which was granted.
In line with this, HHS removed the Notice of Violation issued against UVMCC last Friday. HHS continues to evaluate the underlying facts of the matter and notified all the parties about its actions last Friday.
That says virtually nothing. It is particularly glaring in light of the prior findings. The prior Administration found:
UVMMC forced the nurse complainant to assist in an abortion against the nurse’s religious or moral objection. The nurse had expressed an objection for many years and was included in a list of objectors, but UVMMC knowingly assigned the nurse to an abortion procedure. The nurse was not told the procedure was an abortion until the nurse walked into the room, when the doctor—knowing the nurse objected to assisting in abortions—told the nurse, “Don’t hate me.” The nurse again objected, and other staff were present who could have taken the nurse’s place, but the nurse was required to assist with the abortion anyway. If the nurse had not done so, the nurse reasonably feared UVMMC would fire or report the nurse to licensing authorities.
The prior referral was based on the view that this violated the the Church Amendments by forcing employees to participate in abortions against their moral or religious objections. 42 U.S.C. § 300a-7(c)(1) of the Church Amendments which state:
(1)No entity which receives a grant, contract, loan, or loan guarantee under the Public Health Service Act [42 U.S.C. 201 et seq.], the Community Mental Health Centers Act [42 U.S.C. 2689 et seq.], or the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Act [42 U.S.C. 6000 et seq.] after June 18, 1973, may—
(A) discriminate in the employment, promotion, or termination of employment of any physician or other health care personnel, or
(B) discriminate in the extension of staff or other privileges to any physician or other health care personnel, because he performed or assisted in the performance of a lawful sterilization procedure or abortion, because he refused to perform or assist in the performance of such a procedure or abortion on the grounds that his performance or assistance in the performance of the procedure or abortion would be contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions, or because of his religious beliefs or moral convictions respecting sterilization procedures or abortions.”
The Center received $1.6 million in federal aide in the prior three years.
HHS did not explain the basis for the withdrawal and just said it was “continuing to evaluate” the situation. The Biden Administration needs to be more clear on the government’s positions on religious objections. These nurses deserve better than a perfunctory, conclusory statement when they feel they are being forced to choose between the jobs and their faith.
What is interesting is that the Biden Administration is planning on the controversial step withholding federal funds from hospitals and other institutions that do not impose a mandatory vaccine requirement. However, it is dropping an enforcement action to withhold funds to protect religious objections to participating in abortions.