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 Earlier this year, President Obama rescinded most of the regulation – leaving only the protection for nurses or doctors that do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations.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.
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 saraherdreich.com.