Nearly a hundred Republican senators and representatives sent a letter to the attorney general and health secretary asking for explanations as to why they dismissed a 2020 lawsuit. The lawsuit concerned a medical center that forced its employees to perform abortions even though they objected to their participation based on the conscience law protecting Americans who do not wish to engage in abortions.
A letter dated Aug. 11 and published by the Daily Caller was addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. In it, the Republicans express concern over their “coordinated decision to seek voluntary dismissal in the lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for knowingly, willfully, and repeatedly violating federal conscience-protection laws.”
In Aug. 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under the Trump Administration sent a notice to UVMMC for violating federal law by forcing a nurse to assist in an elective abortion, even though the individual had more than once filed an objection to participating in the procedure.
The Medical Center refused to comply as required in the notice, and so the Department of Health referred the case to the Department of Justice, which filed suit on Dec. 16, 2020, for violating the Church Amendments.
In 1973 Congress passed the Church Amendment, which prohibits all medical institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating against employees who refuse to participate in an abortion based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.
“The Church Amendments create an unqualified right for healthcare personnel to ‘decline to participate in abortions without fear of adverse employment actions or loss of staff privilege,'” the Republicans explain in their letter.
The medical center has received federal funding since 1998 and in 2020 alone received $1.6 million, so it must comply with the Church amendments, the Republicans explain.
The lawmakers accuse UVMMC of forcing its employees who did not want to participate in abortions repeatedly with at least 10 nurses who also tried to take cover under conscientious objection laws but had to assist at least 20 abortion procedures.
The health department led by Becerra annulled the notice of violation, withdrew its referral of the case, and requested the Department of Justice to dismiss the complaint. Indeed on July 30, the Department of Justice dismissed the case without sanctioning UVMMC, disregarding the violated rights of the nurse.
The serious problem, the legislators explain in their letter, is that healthcare workers have no other judicial measures to protect them against discrimination in scenarios such as these, leaving these individuals with no recourse with which to defend themselves.
“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 Republicans wrote.
“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,” they continued. “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 lawmakers argued that living in a diverse society such as the United States, laws protecting people who have different ways of thinking should not be necessary.
“Nevertheless, due to the coercive actions of employers like UVMMC and the hostility toward religious and moral convictions shown by your agencies in this case, the importance of these laws is plainly demonstrated,” the congressmen stated in their letter.