Sunday, November 13, 2011

Abortion and Free Exercise

Danquah v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Two weeks ago, a group of nurses filed lawsuit against the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) claiming the hospital was requiring them to undergo training that involved assisting in the procedure of abortion. These nurses claimed that this requirement violated their free exercise rights. The nurses stated that refusal to take part in the procedure would lead to their termination. Attorneys for the hospital notified a federal judge in Newark on Thursday that the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will not require the nurses to participate in the training if they object on religious grounds before a November 18th court hearing.

I believe that there was no violation of the free exercise clause here. UMDNJ requires all students to undergo a complete training process that is not specifically tailored to one’s religious affiliation. Most training programs are set up in a way that if not all the areas are completed or passed, the individuals are unlikely to be hired or considered for employment. If there is a profound objection to participating in the actual abortion procedure itself due to a religious belief, the University should perhaps develop a means of communicating this requirement to students and employees more effectively before they enroll into the school.

I believe UMDNJ could have and should have handled this situation better and not threatened termination of nurses if they refused the practice. However, these individuals are expected and held to the standards of being fully trained in all areas (including abortion procedures). The University is responsible for training their students, and it would be a slippery slope to start making exemptions to the training process based on people’s religious beliefs. We would then all be stuck with doctors and nurses who are unequally trained in different areas limiting the effectiveness of the system. If there is such a profound objection to participating in the training of abortions alone, in addition to the actual procedure, then these individuals should reconsider the field in which they are pursuing. There are other medical positions they may take up that do not require participation in abortion procedures. In the actual instance of an abortion procedure, if the nurse on staff refuses to take part in the process then the hospital will be inadequately able to provide public assistance. This is a scenario likely to exist if doctors and nurses have the opportunity to choose who and what they provide help for.

Hospitals are public institutions, many of which receive state funding. Allowing doctors and nurses to opt out of procedures based on religious beliefs would be entangling itself within the separation of church and state. In this situation, I am going to need to support a strict separationist attitude and say that any exemptions made on a religious basis would be unconstitutional. I could see the policies of this hospital being ridiculed for threatening the termination of employees based on their religion; however, I do not see this case falling in full support of the nurses because it would be unconstitutional and go directly against the separation of church and state. What do you think? Do you feel that UMDNJ has violated the free exercise clause by threatening the termination of employees who refuse to take a part in the abortion procedure?

13 comments:

Chris R. said...

First of all, we cannot think about the "separation of church and state" as a constitutional statute. Nowhere in the constitution do these words appear in any form. This phrase was coined by one man who was in France at the time the Bill of Rights was passed, Thomas Jefferson. Secondly, terminating employees based on religious belief is the epitomy of religious discrimination. Everyone is guaranteed the free exercise of religion; nurses are not excluded. To force someone to perform an abortion when, in regard to their religious beliefs, they see this as nothing less than murder is certainly unconstitutional.

Grant Z said...

I believe the nurses should be allowed to opt out of assisting in abortions as long as it is possible for them to do so; i.e., as long as there are enough nurses who are willing to assist in the procedure. However, I think nurses must be able to assist in any procedure that they might be reasonably be asked to assist in, and therefore they must be trained in those procedures. I think the hospital should find a way to train them to assist in abortions without hands-on experience so they have an idea of what they're doing should they be needed. In response to Chris, nurses are free to believe that abortions are nothing less than murder, but as nurses, they also need to be able to assist in the procedure. If it means that much to them, perhaps they've chosen the wrong career.

Harry R. said...

I disagree with Justin based on the fact that doctors and nurses do specialize, and it is exactly for that specialization that they go to medical school. Pediatricians who have been practicing for five years don't know how to treat a migraine, and similarly physical therapists don't know how to treat a patient with diabetes. To say that you cannot be a doctor or a nurse unless you are equally skilled in all specialties not only represents a violation of your right to receive an education but would also drastically lower the standard of care in the entire medical field.

Harry R. said...

Also, I agree with Chris that firing employees based on their religious beliefs is illegal. Nurses and doctors can have successful careers without ever doing abortions, so to force them to do one in medical school in opposition to a sincerely held religious belief is a direct violation of their constitutional rights.

Ally R said...

To make a person perform an abortion who has a religious objection to doing so would be the equivalent of making a person commit murder as well as infringing upon their rights. For this reason, I believe that this case is different from other religious exemptions because it is not as if you are trying to control when someone can pray, or their appearance, but rather you would be forcing a person, in this case nurses, to commit what they see as a criminal offense.

Sophie K said...

I agree with Grant’s point that the nurses should be allowed to opt out of assisting in abortions as long as there are enough nurses who are willing to assist in the procedure. This is certainly not a black and white issue though, because that opens the floodgates to new questions about how many nurses to hire and whether you ask nurses their religious affiliations before employment. Ultimately though, I believe that forcing nurses to perform an abortion, when it flies directly in the face of their religious beliefs, is unconstitutional.

Kathryn M. said...

UMDNJ violated the free exercise clause, through viewpoint discrimination, by threatening to terminate nurses who refused to take part in abortion procedures due to their religious convictions. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in her concurring opinion in Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith, “A person who is barred from engaging in religiously motivated conduct is bared from freely exercising his religion,” these nurses are likewise being discriminated against since they cannot act according to their beliefs. To force a person to perform an abortion, which for many people is considered to be murder, is coercive and therefore unconstitutional.

Annie M said...

I agree with Kathryn that it brings up viewpoint discrimination. It's a tough situation though considering the issue of abortions won't diminish and someone must perform the procedures. Abortion is such a sensitive subject and against so many religious beliefs that allowing nurses to opt out of such a procedure may inadvertently decrease chances of being able to get an abortion, thus, establishing religious beliefs. I see both sides to the issue and although nurses must do their job, forcing them to go against something they don't believe in is in violation of their basic human rights.

Marissa V said...

I also agree that the nurses should be able to opt out of this portion of the practice. If it goes against their religion to perform abortions they should not have to violate their freedom of religion to do so. I agree with Grant's suggestion in that the hospital can find alternative ways for the nurses to complete this section of their training without being directly involved in the procedure. There is many ways to make alleviate this situation.

Callie B said...

I agree with many of the other comments that state this is a violation of free exercise. Claiming that maybe they have "chosen the wrong career" is an easy thing to say when you are not the minority being affected. The government must have a compelling state interest to restrict free exercise and must pursue this interest in the least restrictive means possible. Neither of these two requirements seem to appear in this case.

Zermeno A. said...

I believe that it is undoubtedly unconstitutional to expect for nurses to assist in an abortion process even if they in fact, do not find this morally correct as based on their beliefs. As stated in some of the comments above, many people choose a specialization so that they can be successful at doing something they are in fact passionate about. With that said, I don't agree with Grant's idea that all nurses should be prepared to assist in an abortion at any given moment. It is each individual’s right to control their actions and thus, firing someone due to their lack of desire to take a life, is unconstitutional in my eyes.

Mike HJ said...

As much as I want to argue for the secular purpose of this issue, I think Ally's comment defines this issue perfectly. Abortion has long been a hot button topic -- the whole debate of when a fetus is actually "alive" will definitely not be resolved in the near future. With that in mind, I think it is very much within the rights of the nurses to opt out of this training for abortion. They obviously view this as immoral an act as they would murder, and I find it unconstitutional of the hospital to ask that of them.

Casey K said...

The nurses should absolutely have the right to not perform abortions. The have a legitimate religious belief that would be broken if they were coerced into performing this action. They cannot be made to do something that contradicts their religious beliefs without the state having a compelling interest, and I do not believe that this meets the requirement of compelling interest. It is unconstitutional for UMDNJ to require they learn this skill, and also it is unconstitutional to threaten firing the nurses based off of their religious beliefs.