New Jersey Nurses Refuse to Treat Abortion Patients

A recent lawsuit in New Jersey could greatly affect the way abortion services are performed in hospitals across the country. In late October, twelve nurses filed a suit claiming that the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey violated state and federal law with their announcement that nurses would have to help abortion patients before and after the procedure. This announcement, which came in mid-September, reversed the institution’s previous policy that nurses could refuse to assist these patients based on their moral or religious objections.

New Jersey is far from the only state that allows medical employees to opt out of performing or assisting in abortion procedures. These so-called “conscience” protections were greatly strengthened towards the end of George W. Bush’s presidency; a regulation enacted shortly before he left office would have withheld federal funding from hospitals, clinics, and even state and local governments that did not allow health care employees to refuse to participate in any procedure violated their religious, moral, or personal beliefs. This regulation was widely interpreted as protecting employees that refused to provide birth control pills, perform in-vitro fertilization for single women or lesbians, and refuse to treat gay AIDS patients, among other services. Earlier this year, President Obama rescinded most of the regulation – leaving only the protection for nurses or doctors that do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations.

It’s important to note that the New Jersey nurses are not being asked to assist with actual abortion procedures. Rather, they would need to assist in pre- and post-op care. As it stands now, the nurses are refusing to care for such patients even in emergency situations.

Which raises a very relevant question: what about the patient’s protection? Does a woman deserve to be refused care from a trained medical professional, simply because that person disagrees with her personal choice? I’d hate to think that anyone needing medical care could be discriminated against simply because one of the very people that is entrusted with that care has decided to pass their own judgment about who deserves treatment.

Yet with their lawsuit, that is exactly what these nurses are doing. The case will be heard next Monday, December 5.

About Sarah:
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out


  1. Well, I’m surprised those nurses didn’t also want to opt out of treating obese patients, or Middle Eastern patients, or atheist patients, or whatever. Really, nurses???

    I’m a nurse, and I help the people who are placed under my care, regardless of what I think about their politics, life choices, religion, or whatever. They are there because they need care. Good grief, why the heck did they even go into nursing?

  2. Thank you, Miriam. You are what a nurse should be, dedicated to his /her profession. People who need nurses are most likely ill, or recovering from a medical procedure. What are we going to do, have a society where those in need are helped by only those who believe as they do?Didn’t the first nurse who was regarded as such have as a motto helping all according to need only, not any other factor.
    Some pharmacists also want to be able to not fill contraception scripts. like the morning after pill. Well, as an IT tech, I’m going to start helping only those who don’t believe in god, or in going to church. And while I’m at it, women who don’t allow me to sexually harass them and flirt with them while I’m working on their computer, well they’re out , too.
    This stuff is getting out of hand.
    And when Bush put in place his Faith Based Initiatives, he put in place a policy of discrimination in certain religious organizations against folks based on their religion, which determines who gets a job with them and who they feel deserves their help and they get tax dollars for it. Gay? No job for you, and no help from their shelter, cuz’ you know you are not godly like we are who think homosexuality is abominable to god.
    There are just too many religious exemptions for many gov’t programs and with this HHS religious exemption regarding co-pays for contraception, well, as I said, this stuff is getting out of hand. Are pharmacists going to rule out filling Viagra scripts, cuz’ they think sex for old guys is an abomination, too? I doubt it.
    I realize religious folks are prudes when it comes to sex anyway, and they want to punish young sexually active females and force them to have a baby if the contraception doesn’t work, I mean really, those sluts!!And if they didn’t dress the way they do these young women would be left alone, those provocative sluts dressing the way they do, that turn men on, Sluts, I say!

  3. Miriam, I appreciate your position as a nurse and what the realities of your job entail. There should be more like you!

    Raymond, I like your sense of humor when it comes to who you could choose to help or not help as an IT tech. It really shows how absurd it is for people of any occupation to make personal decisions about how they work with and around others.

    It is a shame that these nurses are able to get away with not helping people who require their care. I do not want to think about whether or not a medical professional would choose not to help me because of their personal beliefs.

    This is sounding like a non-treatment abortion witch hunt. What century do we live in?

  4. Claire, I think we are on the same wavelength and I am happy at that.. I also was a Biomedical Engineering Technician working on medical equipment at one time for about 14 years. And the hospital I worked at was in Baltimore, a very prestigous hospital in my opinion. I recall how when they were just discovering the retrovirus HTLV-III in the early 80s that was the ultimate cause of AIDS, and there was news around the country of nurses refusing to treat AIDS patients who at that time were mostly gay men, and hemophiliacs. In that case fear was the motivating factor to some extent, but gay men weren’t viewed as positive as they are today in general either, and while not justified, it was at least an understandable stance than just a political biblical view that determines who you treat as a nurse.
    I was in a creative writing class around that time and did a paper on the ramifications of nurses treating the sick with zero risk and I pointed how that was not possible, no matter the disease, because nurses and healthcare workers are exposed to disease as a matter of risk, risk that they have accepted as par for the course in their career. I also addressed my personal experience with the nurses I worked with and their treating patients with AIDS, and basically, at least at this hospital, the nurses I saw day by day working with them, there was no barrier to treating any and all patients at the hospital(of course there were a couple, a very small number who were just too scared probably).. The paper I did covered various issues and I found in interviews though there was hesitancy at the hospital due to the nature of the unknowns with these immunity problems in this newly discovered and devistating disease(so many people died early on before there was any information about AIDS), nurses for the most part stood up for the patients and worked with them even though the risk had not been fully determined yet. I was so proud of my co-workers then, and though I no longer work in the medical field I cannot imagine these nurses whom I knew deciding to not treat abortion patients,
    I just thought I’d add my two cents worth and I hope it adds some perspective at ;least..

  5. c. lauren says:

    You seem to not realize that a nurse is regarding two patients not one, and that, generally speaking, the procedure that is being undergone is elective surgery, and in no way advances health for either patient. Just saying.

  6. So … you know without a doubt that no abortion ever protects the health of a woman?

    More to the point, you seem not to realize that these nurses were not being asked to participate in the procedure itself – they were being asked to care for the patients before and after the abortion, and they were refusing to provide that care.

  7. Jacquey Riser says:

    “It’s important to note that the New Jersey nurses are not being asked to assist with actual abortion procedures. Rather, they would need to assist in pre- and post-op care. As it stands now, the nurses are refusing to care for such patients even in emergency situations”……according to the nurses involved, this is an absolute lie…..they say they were being forced to undergo training in abortions, all aspects. I was a nurse for 20 years and this is so opposed to the foundational integrity of nursing……we were not trained to kill…….

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