June 16, 2018

Paul Ryan Honors Nurse Who Refused to Perform Abortions

Paul Ryan Honors Nurse Who Refused to Perform Abortions
Angelina Walker
By: Angelina Walker Director of Nursing Content and Social Media

by Amy Blitchok

On June 7th, 2018, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was a featured speaker at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual conference. During his speech, he honored nurse Cathy DeCarlo for standing up for her anti-abortion beliefs and advocating for legislation that ensures other nurses are able to practice according to their deeply held religious and pro-life beliefs. Ryan pointed to her as a shining example of the importance of religious freedom and a symbol of that challenges that the pro-life movement faces.

Risking job security

Nurse DeCarlo’s ordeal began in 2010 when she was asked to assist during an abortion as part of her nursing duties at Mount Sinai hospital. Prior to this incident, DeCarlo had clearly established an understanding with the hospital and her supervisors whereby she could ask to be excused from abortion procedures and a replacement nurse would be found. In fact, when she was first hired, she was assured that she would never have to act against her conscience and perform procedures that directly contradicted her religious beliefs.

On the date in question, DeCarlo claims that her supervisors told her that she would have to assist with abortion or face charges of insubordination. DeCarlo also says that she was told that the mother’s life was an imminent danger, which further complicated the situation. Ultimately, doctors performed the abortion and DeCarlo did not have to participate although she was present and asked to account for the body as part of post-surgery protocol.

Eventually, DeCarlo decided to sue the hospital because she felt she was put in a position where she was forced to choose between following her conscience or losing her job and livelihood. She viewed the incident as both unfair and a violation of federal law. The hospital investigated, which resulted in a hospital-wide policy change that makes it explicitly clear that staff members have a right to act according to their beliefs without being put at risk of losing their jobs.

Conscience Protection Act

In 2017, DeCarlo helped campaign for the Conscience Protection Act. The act would serve as an amendment to the existing Public Health Service Act, which already makes it a violation of federal law for hospitals to discriminate against health care workers who conscientiously object to actively participating in abortions. Proponents of the amendment claim that the current law doesn’t go far enough in providing legal recourse for those who feel they have experienced discrimination. However, Congress doesn’t seem to think the amendment is necessary and claims that the current law is more than protection. The bill has failed to gain much traction since first being introduced.

History of the Faith & Freedom Coalition

Speaker Ryan brought the DeCarlo case back into the spotlight as he voiced his support for conservative issues at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference. This group was founded in 2009 with the goal of uniting Tea Party members and evangelical voters who believe that Christian religious values are an important part of the American fabric. They are strong, outspoken opponents of abortion, medical marijuana and same-sex marriage. The group supports a strong national defense, strict prison sentences and expanding the role of religion in both public education and government. DeCarlo’s case has been used by Speaker Ryan and the group as an example of the type of religious persecution they believe is being aimed at conservative Republicans across the country.  

Whether you agree with the agenda of the Faith & Freedom Coalition or Speaker Ryan’s interpretation of the DeCarlo case, there is an important takeaway from the story. It serves as an important reminder that nurses and hospital staff are protected by federal law against discrimination based on religious beliefs. Any hospital staff member can ask for a replacement and excuse themselves from procedures that violate their conscience. The hospital is legally barred from taking any action against employees who invoke this right. Nurses do not have to compromise their beliefs in the name of carrying out duties.

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