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Nurse Advocates for Conscience Rights Bill: 'I Still Have Nightmares' from Being Forced to Assist with Abortion

Washington, D.C. - Cathy DeCarlo, formerly a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told her story on Capitol Hill Wednesday of being forced to choose between assisting with an abortion or losing her job. DeCarlo and other nurses who had similar experiences gathered with lawmakers to advocate for the Conscience Protection Act that would forbid discrimination against a health care provider “based on the provider's refusal to be involved in, or provide coverage for, abortion.”

DeCarlo broke down as she told those gathered about her experience of being forced to assist in an abortion despite her strong belief in the sanctity of unborn human life.

“I’ll never forget that day as I watched in horror as the doctor dismembered and removed the baby’s bloody limbs and I had to account for all the pieces,” DeCarlo said sobbing, “I still have nightmares about that day.”

DeCarlo talked about coming to the United States from the Philippines to work as a nurse.

“My faith in God and the Catholic Church’s teachings about the sanctity of all human life further inspired my career in nursing as it encouraged me to serve all those who are sick with gentleness and respect,” she said. “My faith also informed my conscience to never harm or intentionally take the life of an innocent person.”

“In August of 2004 I was hired as an operating room nurse at a New York hospital, a hospital which receives millions of dollars in federal funding,” she continued. “When I was hired the hospital assured me that I would never have to compromise my conscience and participate in an abortion.”

Five years later, DeCarlo said, the hospital went back on their word.

“I was preparing for what I thought was going to be a common procedure following a miscarriage only to realize that I was being asked to perform an abortion on a live 22-week-old unborn baby,” she said. “I was scared. I knew doing so would violate my conscience and commitment to protecting and saving lives.”

“My supervisor informed me that I would have to assist with the abortion. I reminded her in tears about the hospital’s legal obligation to never force me to participate in an abortion but to always find a substitute nurse but she refused,” DeCarlo said. “My supervisor insisted that I had to do the abortion and that if I didn’t assist I would be charged with insubordination and abandoning my patient. My nursing career and ability to care for patients and provide for my family would be over.”

“I’m here today to ask Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act so that no other nurses or healthcare professionals are ever forced to go through what I did,” DeCarlo concluded. “I never thought in America that I would be forced to violate my conscience in that way. Please protect conscience rights for healthcare workers. Protecting conscience is essential to our ability to care for and ensure every patient is treated with dignity and respect.”

Two other nurses also spoke about being forced out of their jobs due to their refusal to assist with abortion.

Fe Vinoya was one of 12 nurses at the University Hospital in New Jersey who were threatened with the loss of their jobs if they did not participate in abortion.

“After years of working as a critical care and emergency room nurse, I never imagined that the hospital I worked for would force me to choose between taking the life of an unborn child and losing my job,” Vinoya said. “I became a nurse to help people, not to do harm.”

Sandra Mendoza lost her job at the Winnebago County Health Department in Illinois after 18 years there when she refused to participate in abortion services.

“While we may not all agree on abortion, I’d hope we can all agree that no doctor or and nurse should be forced out of employment on account of their faith and commitment to protecting life,” Mendoza said.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and others at the press conference emphasized that laws to prevent health care providers from being forced to participate in abortion already exist, such as the Weldon Amendment which prevents federal, state and local governments that receive federal funds from discriminating against health care entities that decline to “provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

The problem, they explained, is that the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) refused to enforce these laws.

“What’s lacking in the current law is a right of private action so an individually aggrieved party, like these unbelievably brave nurses, could go into court and assert their right,” Rep. Smith told Townhall. “When Cathy DeCarlo went to court they said you have no standing even though she’s the one that’s being injured so we need to fix that. It’s a main part of this law so that courts all across the country will be in the business of protecting those important conscience rights.”

DeCarlo was turned away by a federal district court and ignored by the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for years.

She ended up filing complaints against her supervisors through Alliance Defending Freedom and, after an investigation, Mount Sinai Hospital changed its policies. Its personnel can now object to participating in abortions, even in an emergency.

When the conscience protection measure originally passed the House in 2016, then-President Obama issued a statement saying he would veto the bill if it came to his desk.

The administration said they were opposed to the measure “because it would have the consequence of limiting women's health care choices and because the Administration believes that protections in current Federal law already provide appropriate protection for the rights of conscience.”

“This bill would unduly limit women's health care choices by allowing a broadly-defined set of health providers (including secular sponsors of employer-based health coverage) to decline to provide abortion coverage based on any objections,” they claimed. “The legislation would also permanently authorize alternative methods of enforcing these provisions that would inevitably lead to confusion.”

President Trump, however, promised on the campaign trail to sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

The act was re-introduced in the House in January and was included in the consolidated appropriations package that passed the House in September. Supporters are hoping to pass it as part of the appropriations bill for the 2018 fiscal year.

Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), the bill’s original author, was also present to advocate for the bill’s passage along with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), and others.

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