In an announcement this past Wednesday, the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that the University of Vermont Medical Centre had illegally duped, and forced, a Catholic Nurse to assist in an elective abortion. The centre has been given 30 days to amend its practices to comply with federal law or face the possible cessation of their federal funding.
Attorney for the Nurse, Francis Manion of the American Centre for Law & Justice (ACLJ) state “this is the first time we’ve ever represented somebody who was put in a position where she couldn’t escape from it [assisting in the abortion], even though her employer knew she was a conscientious objector.”
Even the Doctor performing the abortion apparently knew the immorality and illegality of what was being done, allegedly turning to the nurse during the abortion and saying to her “Don’t hate me!”
Severino said that the nurse, whose name is redacted from HHS documents released Wednesday, had helped in the past with dilation and curettage, in which tissue is scraped from the uterus for a variety of reasons, and believed that she was going to help with another one. But when she walked into the room, Severino said, a doctor told her, “Please don’t hate me” because the procedure was an elective abortion. The nurse feared losing her job and felt coerced to participate, according to Severino’s account.
The response of the Medical Centre at the University of Vermont has not been, as one might expect, to apologise and discipline those involved. Instead, they have taken a more belligerent tone, refusing to recognise the jurisdiction of the OCR to investigate, and issuing a statement claiming that the Government is at fault for not sitting down with them to discuss how carefully-crafted their practices and policies are.
Prior to 2017, elective abortions were not performed at the centre. The change was brought about by the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees Allie Stickney – a long-time senior leader at Planned Parenthood – to honour the recommendations of staff.
The consciences of staff, apparently, have not been honoured.
As noted by Roger Severino, the Head of the Department of Health and Human services’ Office of Civil Rights, “America reached a consensus after Roe v. Wade…Nobody should be forced to participate in [an abortion] against their will. Large swaths of the American public see that as not only fair, but just. How could we countenance a situation where we allow a federally funded entity to force a medical professional to participate in taking a human life?”
There is, of course, no such settled consensus in Ireland as to what is fair after the Referendum result, and as a result, pro-life persons might fairly worry over what the future holds.
With an Irish government which is legislating for exclusion zones, and which has already presided over a situation which led to a couple aborting their unborn child upon a false pretext, it is imperative now more than ever to safeguard the right of religious persons, and others with conscientious objections, to refuse to participate in any way in abortions.
If this fundamental freedom of conscience is not affirmed, there is a real risk that such persons will be forced to contribute to the taking of human life, or indeed to participate in other activities that countermand the demands of their conscience.
What is happening in the United States will sooner or later come to Ireland. It always has, and it always will.
The case in Vermont should be widely noted in Ireland, for it is a warning of the kind of situation that is now likely to arise here.