A Tale of Nine Nurses

A woman—just 14 weeks pregnant—arrived at Nassau University Medical Center in New York, her water broken. Doctors told her that her tiny baby could not survive and recommended an abortion to avoid infection. The mother agreed. But eight nurses on duty that day refused to take part in the abortion. The baby, they said, still had a heartbeat, and the mother’s life was not in danger.

The medical center has a policy of not requiring nurses to participate in abortions if they have moral objections. State and federal law backs up this policy. Nevertheless, the eight nurses say they have often been pressured to assist in abortions. And this time, their refusal led to disciplinary action. The nurses were all suspended.

Happily, their labor union came to their aid. The hospital’s actions against the nurses, the union said, “goes against protocol…and the law.” The hospital backed down and apologized to the nurses. Good. You can read the story of this here.

But a similar case did not have such a happy ending.

Last year, Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital, was ordered to take part in a non-emergency, late-term abortion—despite her known pro-life views. Do it, she was told, or you’ll lose your nursing license. Cenzon-DeCarlo reluctantly agreed—and then filed state and federal lawsuits against Mount Sinai.

The Alliance Defense Fund is representing Cenzon-DeCarlo, arguing that forcing her to assist in taking the life of a 22-week pre-born child is, “illegal, unethical, and a violation of Cathy’s rights of conscience as a devout Catholic.” The ADF says Mt. Sinai violated state laws and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her.

Cenzon-DeCarlo, an immigrant, appears to know more about what America stands for than her employers. As she put it, “I emigrated to this country in the belief that here, religious freedom is sacred. Doctors and nurses shouldn’t be forced to abandon their beliefs and participate in abortion in order to keep their jobs.”

Cenzon-DeCarlo is absolutely right. But more and more often we are hearing stories of Americans being denied these rights. Alan Sears, with the Alliance Defense Fund, has written a great article about this at ColsonCenter.org. He quotes Chai Feldblum, appointed by President Obama to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to Feldblum, “Protecting one group’s identity may, at times, require that we burden others’ belief liberty.”

In other words, private religious beliefs should not be tolerated, but punished.

This is frightening—and the reason that I joined with other leaders to draft the Manhattan Declaration, which has now been signed by nearly 450,000 people. It’s a movement of people courageous enough to take a principled stand on the critical moral issues of our time, especially religious liberty. You can sign your own name to it by visiting ManhattanDeclaration.org, or pass it on to your friends.

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  • DRF

    In other words, the doctors told the woman 1. what the risks to herself were 2. what the likelihood of her child living was so that 3. she could make an informed decision about what risks she was prepared to take. That is their job.

    Sometimes premature babies as young as twenty weeks live, but a fourteen-week old fetus is going to die. Is her safety worth so little?

    The nurse was not punished for her beliefs. She was punished for refusing to do her job–assisting in medical procedures.

  • AllisonC

    I have signed the Manhattan declaration. If a person is required to do something in fear of losing their means of livelihood (nursing license) that is wrong! Abortion is, at present, an elective surgery. To require anyone who is morally opposed to that procedure to participate is a violation of that individual’s rights. There are many nurses and doctors who seem to forget that “first do no harm” is part of the medical oath. Surely there were other nurses on staff that did not have any compunction to killing an innocent child.

  • Therese


    Your perspective is a little too narrow for this high-risk labor and delivery nurse to tolerate. I have cared for many patients who had ruptured bags early in the pregnancy, were treated with antibiotics and had mixed outcomes – a few of the patients’ bags re-sealed and the pregnancy continued. Others went into spontaneous labor and delivered a non-viable fetus (early developmental term for the baby). Taking an active part in causing contractions to begin and, therefore, deliver the baby has not always been the protocol of choice.
    Also, those of us who will not actively participate in the death of another human being are generally the ones who voluntarily care for all of the mothers whose baby has died in utero and help her go through the labor and delivery of a dead infant. We are not refusing to do our job!!!!

  • krby34

    DRF – you are mixing up the stories an it creates a HUGE error in your logic.

    8 nurses refused to assist in a ruptured bag abortion and were found to be justified.

    1 nurse refused to participate in a 22 week old babies death for a non-emergency abortion. Was forced to participate under threat of employment. She is now suing the employer.

    Two different situations. The first had questionable viability for the babies survival with minimal risk to the mother and they were found to be RIGHT to refuse to participate. The second had a healthy mother and baby just two weeks from medically viable survival of birth but an abortion was being selected for unknown reasons and nurse was forced to assist against her wishes and it is still in question.

    All nurses did their jobs. All nurses had the right to determine what medical procedures they find to be objectionable and refuse to assist in them.

  • drea916

    We will see an increase of “green martyrs”: those who will lose their job/money for standing up for their beliefs. I think the nurse who assisted in the 22 week abortion should not have participated. They fire you-they fire you. If you do the right thing, God will provide.