Update: NJ Nurses Can Refuse to Provide Abortion Care

A New Jersey hospital has reached a deal with twelve nurses that claimed they were forced to help care for abortion patients. The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has agreed to allow the nurses to remain in their current positions and refuse to assist in any part of an abortion. The nurses must still assist a patient that is in a life-threatening situation if no other nurses are available to help – but only until someone else can be brought in to take over.

While both the hospital and the nurses say they are happy with the outcome, concerns still remain for what this settlement could mean for women that need abortion care. After all, these nurses have basically been given the okay to discriminate against patients based on their personal ideology. As Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, pointed out to The Washington Post, ““No one should ever have to worry about facing discrimination when they check into the hospital.”

The nurses’ attorney claims that his clients will never compromise either their duty to patients or their professional oath. Which is an interesting statement to make, because it seems like they already have.

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 saraherdreich.com.


  1. Sarah, I’m kind of torn on what to think about this case. On the one hand, I think conscience clauses are bullshit. But on the other hand, let’s say that a nurse refused to participate in circumcision cases. Would I feel the same way? No, I wouldn’t – but that’s because I’m opposed to circumcision. So yeah . . . still debating this one out in my brain.

  2. I’m a nurse. I’ve worked in several areas. I take jobs that don’t interfere with my moral compass. If those women don’t want to work with women who are having/have had abortions, why not work in pediatrics instead (or mental health, or some other area)? OB/GYN is one small part of a hospital. I’m sure they could be allowed to transfer completely out of that section and never have to worry about it again.

    Conscience clauses don’t work when you are taking care of sick people.

    • Alix, I totally agree with you about that – work in a section of the hospital or in a clinic that doesn’t relate to reproductive care if you don’t want to assist with an abortion. I think that’s the perfect middle line.

    • Alix-while it’s a good idea to “take jobs that don’t interfere with your moral compass,” what about the pro-life nurses that work in the OB/GYN section because that’s where they WANT to work-or pro-life OB/GYN’s themselves? Their views and beliefs should be respected, and they should not have to participate in what they believe to be the taking of an innocent human life. That’s what abortion clinics are for?

      Unless I’m misunderstanding your reasoning, you are saying that my sister, who is about to enter medical school to become an OB/GYN should have to perform abortions whether she likes it or not. I understand that a doctors/nurses job is to take care of sick people, however, most women obtaining abortions are doing it for social/elective reasons and not because they are “sick.”

      • Well, actually . . . someone training to be a gynecologist does need to know how to perform an abortion. If a woman miscarries, the child needs to be aborted in order to remove it from the womb. So yeah . . . this isn’t a black & white issue.

        • I had thought that if a woman miscarried her fetus/embryo was already dead-and that the procedure isn’t an abortion because an abortion removes a live pregnancy. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the meaning though. In any case, I would consider THAT differently than an elective abortion, and I imagine doctors/nurses might view the two differently as well, since the issue pro-life people’s (whether you are a doctor or nurse or not) issue with abortion is they feel it is the taking of innocent human life. In the case of a miscarriage-it isn’t another person deciding a pregnancy should end.

          • There are many reasons a nurse would need to perform an abortion on a “live” fetus that isn’t “social/elective”. For instance, a woman with cancer cannot receive chemotherapy and carry a child (in most cases). If she chooses to carry through with her cancer treatment, she would need a “live” abortion.

            There are seriously so many instances where a “live” fetus needs to be aborted before the miscarriage happens in order to protect the mother – and not just in the case of health. Babies that have diseases such as Harlequinn Fetus syndrome (butchered that spelling) on a 98% basis live no longer than an hour after birth. Can you image the mental health impact carrying a child for 9 months and then having it die can do to you? Aborting a fetus early when you know it will not survive the pregnancy is often the healthiest choice for women.

            Regardless – I think you (your sister) need to look more into the reasons for abortion, and realize that being a part of health care means people make choices (like having sex, or smoking) and deserve to be treated and cared for even though they made those choices (having an abortion, getting cancer treatment).

          • 1,000,000 abortions do not happen every year in this country because 1,000,000 women are at risk of dying or the baby is at risk of dying. 95% of those abortions happen because the women do not want to have a child end of story. Almost all of the time it is for social reasons. I am also in the medical field as a surgical assistant and understand the abortion procedure. Abortions after miscarriage are not the same as elective abortions performed at abortion clinics. In fact any hospital will perform an abortion called a D and C due to miscarriage. Elective abortions are murder because they end the life of the unborn child without its’ consent to do so. Also, emergency C sections are done when the mother is in her third trimester and most of the time the child survives with today’s advancements. Therefore, there is no reason to do an elective abortion unless you have a tubal pregnancy. There are surgical methods for preventing premature birth of babies these days. We have come so far in medical treatment to save both the mother and child that abortion should be absolutely rare and only when the life of the mother is at absolute risk. 1,000,000 abortions is not rare. 50% of all black pregnancies end in abortion. That is not rare. This is an atrocity and human rights violation. It is genocide.

          • Tegan

            Your views concerning a baby diagnosed with [Sic] Harlequinn Fetus syndrome are understandable. However, I came across this today, a completely different point of view


  3. Isn’t choice a two way street or is the only choice we’re allowed to have is what others want? It seems your choice is abortion or abortion.

    • There is a difference between personal choice and professional responsibility. No one is saying that these nurses can’t advocate for anti-choice causes on their own time. But their professional responsibility is to their employer and their patients.

      • That’s not true. In the days of the draft a man was compelled to serve but he wasn’t compelled to kill. His conscience was respected. There was a time in our history when certain women were forcibly sterilized, which I’m sure we both agree is repulsive. However, if that were still legal and I extend your logic a nurse would be compelled to assist in that procedure.

        One must always properly form and follow their conscience.

        • JM, how could someone that refused to kill serve in the military? I’m not being sarcastic, I’m really curious. I can understand going through enlistment and basic training, but how would that work if someone that refused to kill was sent into combat? I always thought that that was why people who had an ethical opposition to killing avoided military service altogether, even during times of a draft.

          As to your second point – ok, that’s a fair statement. However, a forced sterilization would, by definition, something that a woman did not want. To my mind, the role of doctors and nurses in these medical procedures is completely different than those that are providing – or refusing to provide – a service that a woman has freely chosen to have. Obviously you may disagree.

  4. Sarah,

    In regard to your first question, the term is Conscientious Objector. These people could still end up in combat – a lot of them did – as medics or other support staff. As an aside, during the draft, a lot of people tried a lot of things to avoid service; it generally didn’t work. If the military needed a body they got it.

    Regarding these nurse, according to the news reports they weren’t hired to assist with abortions. The hospital changed the rules without regard for them. It would be different if they were hired as nurses for an abortion clinic. They would know full well what they were getting into. If one or all had a conversion then they would be obligated to quit their job. They wouldn’t be able to demand that the clinic stop performing abortions.

    • JM, I think that’s a legit point that the nurses didn’t know when they were hired that abortion would be performed in their department/clinic. That’s a different element to the story.

    • JM, thank you for the explanation!

      I understand your second point. But I think it’s interesting that, given how common abortion procedures are, and the wide variety of reasons that women need abortions, an OB/GYN nurse wouldn’t have considered the idea that he or she might have to assist at a procedure at some point in their career (unless, of course, they worked at facilities that refused to provide the service, such as Catholic hospitals). I imagine there were other procedures they weren’t explicitly hired to provide that they have assisted with over the course of their careers. That abortion is such a lightning point highlights just how stigmatized this very common procedure is.

      • Sarah the problem here is elective abortions and not abortions themselves that are required to save the mother’s life. You can’t lump the two together. One is needed to save the life of the mother, and the other is for convenience to the mother. One is not moral or ethical and the other is. Guess which one isn’t moral or ethical? As a surgical assistant I do not mind assisting a surgeon on a D and C where the mother’s life is at absolute risk such as hemorrhage etc. Most of the time the baby will miscarry anyways in these situations and we end up doing a D and C for a passed baby. It would be absolutely rare to have to take the life of a baby in order to save the mother. Let us just get that out of the way right now, because people don’t understand that. Surgeons will tell you that it would be absolutely rare to perform an abortion on a live baby to save the life of the mother. People need to know the truth, and the truth is 95% of abortions are done for social purposes, because the mother got pregnant and no longer wants the child. Then they just kill the child.

  5. Sarah,

    I think you answered your question. Abortion is a lighting point because in our hearts we know it’s not the right choice.

    • Actually, I didn’t ask a question. Abortion is an individual choice and I would never presume to tell anyone that it is or is not the right choice for them. I prefer to focus on ensuring that women have access to the full array of reproductive choices and options that they need and deserve, and supporting whatever decision they feel is best for them. And never assuming that I know what is best for someone else, much less what is in their hearts.

  6. Sarah,

    I didn’t say we should judge someone’s heart – we can’t but we can judge actions. In my heart I know abortion isn’t the right choice. We like to forget about the second person, who doesn’t get a say in the decision. The reason why the world is a mess is because we forget that we have to will the good of the other.

    • I agree with JM. The person getting an abortion doesn’t take into consideration the life they are taking. It isn’t like you can ask your unborn child “hey…can I kill you?”. You just do it and then try to justify it. I know I did when my girlfriend at the time had an abortion with me by her side. I hate abortion now. I was there and witnessed it all. Our child had no option to survive. When you become a parent you are the charged with the duty of protecting your child at all cost. This all goes out the window when you are sitting there ready to chop up that child and suck it out into a suction canister.

  7. And Sarah why do you not give the child the same choice you give the parent to the basic right to life? Isn’t the basic right to life just that..a basic right to life? You are saying it isn’t your decision to give the child a basic right to life and instead give the mother the best possible provider of murdering her child if she so chooses. Why not extend this logic to already born babies? Why can’t mothers throw their babies in the trash outside? That is where aborted babies used to go. Now they are burned.

    • I’ve been reading this site for a while and I hardly ever comment, but this one is just too confused to let go. Noah, you need to get this one fact straight: not one aborted pregnancy in the history of Earth has ever involved murdering a child. Abortion is what a pregnant woman does to end a pregnancy. It doesn’t involve babies AT ALL, ever. In fact, the whole POINT of abortion is that it doesn’t involve babies. Abortion has about as much to do with child murder as turning on your kitchen’s oven has to do with burning down your neighbor’s house.

  8. Noah, it is your opinion that some abortions are less “moral and ethical” than others. Everyone is entitled to their personal opinion. But they are not entitled to force other people to make decisions according to their opinions.

  9. The taking of an innocent life can never be justified. Therefore there is no such thing as a “moral & ethical” abortion. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion but some opinions don’t matter and opinions don’t override truth.

    I believe it was Mario Cuomo who started the notion of “I’m personally opposed to abortion but I support a woman’s right to choose.” He’s entitled to his opinion but his opinion is worthless. It means he’s punting on making a decision. Worse, it means anything goes – no objective standard. We could change “abortion” to “bank robbery”, “tax evasion” “wife beating”, “pornography” etc. If we can’t decide right from wrong our society is doomed.

    Society has a right to regulate or even prohibit abortion because it is a human rights issue.

    • Women having the right and freedom to choose what to do with their bodies is also a human rights issue.

      I have no idea if Cuomo actually made the statement that you credit him with, but I think that such an attitude is exemplary. I respect those that recognize that just because they might not personally choose something, that doesn’t give them the right to tell other people what to do.

      And the fact that you are attempting to conflate abortion with tax evasion shows how little you actually understand about abortion.

    • Sarah, you’re being way too nice to this JM. This is the kind of nonsense argument that freshmen make when they haven’t done the reading for Philosophy 101. Yeah, if you start to equate “things that are like X” with “things that aren’t like X”, like tax evasion and the taking of a life, then you can make X look bad. But it doesn’t mean there’s any logic behind your invective.

      • tom veil – since you think Sarah is being “way to nice” (actually I’m trying to have a civil & charitable discussion) I’ll use your approach. In the sentence below,let’s change “abortion” to “murder” and let’s change” woman” to “persons”.

        “I’m personally opposed to abortion but I support a woman’s right to choose.”

        Isn’t there any act that’s morally wrong?

  10. Everyone has the right to do what they want with their body – to a point. I believe Mayor Bloomberg is wrong in his support of laws banning salt, sugar, and trans-fats. However, aren’t there laws against suicide (at least in most states)? One can’t legally buy a controlled substance without a doctor’s prescription. As I said earlier, the killing of an innocent person can never be justified.

    Cuomo made that argument on September 13, 1984 during a speech at Notre Dame University. I wouldn’t call it exemplary; more on the order of pandering. Although some might describe his position as cowardly. The point I was making, which you seem to have taken offense at, is that Cuomo’s position states that morality is relative; to a degree it is. If I see nothing wrong with liquor but if someone else does, that’s life. Not everything is relative.

  11. Sarah,

    Something I forgot to ask: Why is abortion so important?

  12. JM, I am going to invite you to take your comments elsewhere. You have not technically violated our comments policy (which is easy to find from the navigation menu at the top), but the hostility you are showing towards Sarah will not be tolerated. Please stop harassing Sarah, or you will be permanently banned from being able to access our site.

    Let’s keep it courteous, ya’ll. Thanks!

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