The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) Office for Civil Rights recently accused the University of Vermont Medical Center of violating federal law by forcing a nurse to participate in an elective abortion.
According to office director Roger Severino, UVMC scheduled the nurse to be a part of the procedure despite having previously stated a moral or religious objection. There was no information provided by the office about the condition of the fetus or gestation age.
About the case
There are federal conscience protection laws that allow healthcare providers to state religious or moral objections to certain types of procedures.
OCR gave UVMC 30 days to review its conscience protection and staffing policies and to bring them into compliance with the Church Amendments, or else it would face loss of federal funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Severino said UVMC was not cooperative with the OCR investigation and did not provide a clear indication it would change its policies.
UVMC, however, disputes the allegations, stating they were based on an untrustworthy complaint from a former employee. It denied allegations that it has ever scheduled employees to participate in procedures to which they have registered formal objections.
This marked the first conscience protection case that involved an allegation that a staffer was forced to participate in an abortion against their will. HHS established a Conscience and Religious Freedom division in 2018. There were two previous enforcement actions filed against California and Hawaii for alleged instances of requiring crisis pregnancy centers to give women information about abortion options.
For more information about what steps you should take if you believe your employer to be in knowing violation of federal laws, contact an experienced whistleblower lawyer at Kardell Law Group.