Dozens of congressional lawmakers are outraged after the Justice Department decided to drop a lawsuit against a federally-funded hospital that forced several nurses to assist in elective abortions despite their objections.
The lawmakers have sent a strongly worded letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra making it clear that the nurses’ conscience rights have been violated.
Written by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) and signed by fellow Pro-Life Caucus co-chairs—Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Kat Cammack (R-FL)—and a total of 84 members of Congress, the letter expressed deep concerns over the Biden Administration’s “coordinated decision to seek a voluntary dismissal in the lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for knowingly, willfully, and repeatedly violating federal conscience-protection laws.”
“Your handling of this case is a profound miscarriage of justice and a rejection of your commitment to enforce federal conscience laws for Americans of all religious beliefs and creeds—and especially for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who object to abortion,” the members of Congress wrote to President Biden’s appointed Attorney General and Secretary of HHS.
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In December 2020, the DOJ had filed its case against UVMMC for unlawfully forcing a nurse—who had submitted a conscience and religious discrimination complaint against the hospital—to assist in an elective abortion despite her objection. According to the complaint, the hospital had scheduled approximately 10 nurses with registered conscience objections to assist with nearly 20 abortion procedures.
The DOJ lawsuit came in the wake of a notice of violation issued by the HHS Office for Civil Rights in August 2019 after “a thorough investigation and prolonged attempts to resolve the matter.” In that notice, the HHS Office for Civil Rights asked the hospital to take corrective action to conform its policies with federal statutes, or face legal action.
The letter to Garland and Becerra continued: “Under your leadership, HHS revoked its notice of violation, withdrew the referral, and requested that DOJ dismiss the lawsuit against UVMMC. The DOJ did in fact voluntarily dismiss the case on Friday, July 30, 2021, without any binding settlement or requirement that UVMMC remedy its unlawful policies or make restitution to, or even acknowledge, the nurse whose rights it violated.”
Federal law, known as the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. § 300a-7(c)(1)), prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating against individuals who do not wish to participate in abortion because it violates their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
“Your actions signal to employers all around the country that they don’t need to comply with the law because your agencies will not enforce it,” the lawmakers warned Garland and Becerra.
“They also signal that this administration would rather allow consciences to be violated at the behest of the abortion lobby rather enforce the law and protect religious liberty,” the letter said.