HHS sides with nurses who say their religion means they shouldn't have to do their jobs


The Department of Health and Human Services is backing a nurse who refused to perform her job duties.

The Trump administration just took another huge step toward allowing medical professionals to simply refuse to do their jobs.

Conservatives, particularly religious ones, are likely overjoyed with the latest move from the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency just issued a notice of violation to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) because the hospital asked a nurse to assist with an abortion.

It's the first time HHS has taken enforcement action against a medical provider dealing specifically with abortion, but it certainly won't be the last.


The nurse had previously indicated she did not want to participate in abortions, even though it is a perfectly legal procedure provided by the hospital. According to HHS, the nurse was told she'd be helping with dilation and curettage, where tissue is scraped from the uterus for several reasons besides abortion. When she arrived, according to HHS, she learned it was an elective abortion.

There are a couple of reasons that HHS may have gone after UVMMC for their test case here. First, the hospital only recently began offering elective abortions in 2017, a fact that likely irritates an administration trying to stamp out abortion rights. Next, the state of Vermont is considering a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion. HHS denied that played a role.

This is really the tip of the iceberg. The Trump administration has made clear that the door is wide open for religious zealots who want to refuse to do their health care jobs. During the whole of the Obama administration — when some of the same protections for religious beliefs were in effect anyway — there were 10 conscience-based complaints. Since Trump took office, there have been over 1300, and at least 784 of those relate to religious discrimination.

Under the guise of "religious freedom," this administration is encouraging medical professionals to refuse to perform certain medical procedures, even when a hospital is short-staffed, as was the case here.

Health care shouldn't be a patchwork and a gauntlet. People needing reproductive health care shouldn't have to guess whether their nurse will actually perform the procedure. The same goes for transgender individuals who need health care but run into the obstacle of an anti-trans health care provider. But that's exactly what the Trump administration is encouraging — and they're succeeding.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.