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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Repression of Conscience

Nurses who refused to assist in abortion disciplined

New York, USA (2010)

The Long Island Catholic
April 14, 2010 | Vol. 49, No. 4
Reproduced with permission

Pete Sheehan

EAST MEADOW - Eight nurses who refused to participate in an abortion at Nassau University Medical Center here March 31 are resisting disciplinary action levied on them by hospital officials.

"This is a horrendous situation," said one of the labor/delivery nurses disciplined who asked that her name not be used. She and the others, she said, had signed paperwork at the time they began working there stipulating that they would not be required to assist in abortions but have often faced pressure to do so.

Some of the nurses involved have lost vacation time and others have their cases still pending, union officials report.

"The decision against these nurses by the hospital goes against protocol, goes against procedure, and goes against the law," said Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees' Association (CSEA) Nassau Local 830. The union is filing a grievance and is "considering litigation."

"This was not an emergency situation and at no time was the patient endangered," said Ryan Mulholland, communications director for the CSEA local.

The hospital's administrator, Arthur A. Gianelli, president and CEO of NuHealth System, declined to comment, citing "confidentiality requirements."

Joining the union in speaking up for the nurses are the Long Island Coalition for Life and Feminists Choosing Life of New York State.

On March 30, the patient, who was about 15 weeks pregnant, came to the hospital for surgery to prevent a miscarriage, Mulholland said. She had come to the hospital before because of complications. After preparation for surgery began, further complications ensued. The next day, she decided to have an abortion rather than undergo the surgery.

"Several of us had put in letters years ago stipulating that we do not participate in abortions," the labor/delivery nurse noted. "There are many reasons for that, other than our religious beliefs, and we represent many different religious backgrounds. Most of the doctors don't perform abortions either."

So the attending physician asked them for assistance in contacting a nurse who would be willing to assist with an abortion, she said. Because the patient was stable and in no danger and was being monitored for vital signs, the physician decided to wait until later in the afternoon for that nurse to arrive.

Meanwhile, hospital personnel asked the refusing nurses to sign a form for employees who refuse to perform or assist in procedures contrary to their conscience or religious beliefs, Mulholland said. One of the nurses contacted the union representative, who came to the maternity ward to assess the situation.

"They were asked to sign it on the spot and it was three or four pages long," said Laricchiuta, local president. Even though it was dated December 2009, he said, neither employees nor union officials were familiar with the form. Hospital procedure requires that employees be informed about any new policies before being asked to comply with them.

The procedure began when the nurse willing to assist in abortion came on duty. The baby died before the procedure was completed, Mulholland said, with no ill effect to the woman.

On April 2, all the nurses who resisted assisting in the abortion were verbally reprimanded, Mulholland said.

In addition, three lost vacation time and the other five also face further disciplinary action.

They were cited for alleged insubordination, failing to provide patient care and endangering patient safety, refusal to sign the form, refusing to accept transfer of a patient from another unit, and conducting union business in a patient care area. No specific reference to abortion was made.

"In addition to what the union is doing," the labor and delivery nurse noted, "some of the nurses are considering filing legal action," and also filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Celeste Broyles, treasurer for the Long Island Coalition for Life, said that the coalition supports the nurses and their union. "Health care workers should not be coerced or pressured into assisting in or performing abortions.

"We appreciate that there are health care workers who recognize that human life begins in the womb," Broyles said. "It is unfortunate that the hospital would put health care workers in that situation."

Florence Scarinci, Long Island representative for Feminists for Choosing Life of New York State, said "it is sad that 'pro-choice' always seems to mean the choice to have an abortion, rather than the choice not to participate in abortion."


The hospital subsequently admitted that the treatment of the objecting nurses was improper. See Hospital rescinds penalties against nurses

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