Nurses File Discrimination Suit after Policy Change

December 2, 2011 ( – A dozen nurses in New Jersey have filed a lawsuit in federal court charging their employer with religious discrimination following a policy change on caring for patients who’ve had abortions.

The Washington Post reports that the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey abruptly announced in September that nurses would have to help with abortion patients before and after the procedure, reversing a long-standing policy exempting employees who refuse based on religious or moral objections.   

The hospital issued a statement 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.” It added: “The university is in full compliance with all applicable state and federal laws and is confident its position will be vindicated when the court gives this matter a full hearing.”  

On November 3, a federal district court judge granted a request for a temporary restraining order barring the hospital from requiring the nurses to undergo training to care for abortion patients, pending a December 5 hearing on the case, according to the Post.  

Matt Bowman, an attorney representing the nurses, said he has received an e-mail from a lawyer for the hospital arguing that no laws had been broken, because the nurses are required to care for abortion patients only before and after the procedure. “The pre- and post-operative care provided to these patients is the same nature as that provided to patients who have undergone other surgical procedures,” Edward B. Deutsch of McElry, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter of Morristown, N.J., wrote in the e-mail.  

Bowman argued that requiring the nurses to get involved before and after an abortion violated their right to refuse based on their conscientious objections. “Federal and state law explicitly prohibits requiring nurses to assist in abortion against their moral and religious convictions,” Bowman said. “All these nurses are asking is that they not have to assist in any part of an abortion case.”