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HHS Acts to Protect Healthcare Provider Conscience Rights

On August 28, 2019, the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (OCR) issued a Notice of Violation letter to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC). OCR has determined that UVMMC violated the Church Amendments, the federal law protecting the rights of conscience of healthcare providers, when it forced a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure in 2017.

During its investigation, OCR found that UVMMC regularly scheduled employees with moral or religious objections to participate in elective abortions, forcing them into a crisis of conscience and violating federal law. OCR will spend the next thirty days working with UVMMC to update its policies and practices to comply with federal law before evaluating whether federal funding ($1.6 million over three years) should be pulled from the Center.

UVMMC has the option to not perform elective abortions, or to not receive federal money, but it does not have the option to receive federal money, perform elective abortions, and coerce employees into participating in said abortions. This is a violation of established federal civil rights law.

This is OCR’s third enforcement action under this Administration, following actions it took against violations of the rights of conscience of pro-life pregnancy resource centers in California and Hawaii.

Statement from AUL President and CEO, Catherine Glenn Foster:

“Regardless of anyone’s personal views on abortion, no person should be coerced into participating in an abortion against their moral convictions or religious beliefs. I applaud the Office of Civil Rights and this Administration for taking seriously the conscience rights of healthcare providers and enforcing decades-old legal protections like the Church Amendments. It is imperative that no employee be forced to choose between their job and their beliefs.”