UVM Medical Center denies discriminating against nurse over abortion

Published: Aug. 29, 2019 at 11:38 AM EDT
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University of Vermont Medical Center officials are denying they discriminated against a nurse who took part in an abortion procedure over her moral objections in 2018.

It comes after the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that the hospital could lose some federal funding if the two parties cannot agree within 30 days on the hospital's policies on employee participation in abortions.

The hospital said in a statement that its policies strike the balance between supporting employees' religious, ethical and cultural beliefs, and ensuring "patients are not denied access to safe and legal abortion."

"We do not discriminate against any employees for exercising their rights to opt out of procedures to which they object. These procedures cover initiation and cessation of life support, organ transplant, sterilization, and termination of pregnancy," said the statement. "From the outset and as recently as this month, we have offered to discuss our policies and practices, and to receive OCR's advice on how those policies and practices may be improved consistent with our obligations to our patients. Unfortunately, OCR instead chose to proceed with the announcement it issued."

Hospital officials say the claim was investigated and is not supported by fact. Federal officials claim they contacted the hospital to seek cooperation but the hospital refused to conform its policies.

Officials at the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals told WCAX they had no comment on the UVM situation.

The Vermont Medical Society says they don't have enough details to comment on the particular case, but they provided a statement that says they encourage "clinicians and employers to communicate openly and honestly regarding their values and ability to perform specific medical procedures."

Society officials say it's a sensitive balance that can be hard for clinicians to understand. They say it's tough for them to balance their ethical responsibilities to ensure patients get access to medical care with their individual beliefs.

The American Medical Association's code of ethics says. "Physicians are not defined by their job, they have a right to their own diverse cultural, religious and philosophical traditions and beliefs just like their patients."

It's unclear how much federal money UVM Medical Center could lose if it cannot come to an agreement with the nurse over employee participation guidelines.