Healthcare News & Insights

Nurses sue to avoid tending pre- and post-op abortion patients

A new lawsuit is reviving the touchy subject of health care workers’ rights to refuse to take part in a patient’s abortion procedure. 

A group of nurses in New Jersey recently filed suit against the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey regarding the hospital’s September announcement that nurses would be required to help with pre- and post-op care of abortion patients. That was a reversal of the previous policy that exempted employees who had religious or moral objections to the procedure. The nurses, all of whom work in the hospital’s same-day surgery unit, claim the requirement to help patients before and after the procedure is a violation of various state and federal laws.

In a statement, the hospital said that “no nurse is compelled to have direct involvement in, and/or attendance in the room at the time of, a procedure to which she or he objects based on his/her cultural values, ethics and/or religious beliefs.” The statement went on to say that the university is in compliance with all applicable laws.

The suit was filed Oct. 31, and on Nov. 3, a judge granted a temporary restraining order that bars the hospital from requiring nurses to be trained on caring for abortion patients. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5

New Jersey, like many states, has laws allowing health care providers with moral or religious objections to abortion to refuse to participate in the procedure. Federal law also requires health-care organizations that get taxpayer money to exempt workers from the procedure.

The topic hits several hot button issues, including the morality of abortion and patients’ right to treatment plans which health providers don’t agree with.

The hospital maintains that the pre- and post-op care abortion patients receive is the same as any other less controversial procedure. The hospital also said that nurses were putting patients at greater risk since they refused to care for them even in emergency situations.

Several women’s health advocates said that being exempt from performing actual abortions didn’t give the nurses the right to pick and choose which patients they would work with regarding pre- and post-op care.

“If it’s directly participating in an abortion, then the law says they should be able to refuse without being penalized,” said Susan Berke Fogel of the National Health Law Program. “It can’t be just, ‘She’s there to have an abortion’ therefore the person can refuse to even talk to her, refuse to look at her chart or, say, let visitors come up to see her.”

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  1. Mark Lindenmayer says:

    I am a Registered Nurse with 24 years experience. I find this appalling. It is not the place of the nurse to judge the morality of their patients and it certainly is wrong on every level for a nurse to refuse care to anyone in the workplace setting. I fully agree that a nurse should not be forced to participate in an abortion. I wouldn’t. However, nursing has a huge spectrum of different jobs out there. If you have a problem with providing care to any particular segment of society then go work where you will not have to see “those” people at all. Not everyone is cut out to work at the county STD clinic or prison, so don’t hire on there. What these nurses are doing is unethical and goes against everything of what a nurse should be.