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HHS sanctions California and Vermont Medical Center for conscience violations

The U.S. Dept Department of Health and Human Services


John Burger - published on 12/19/20 - updated on 12/19/20

A nurse was forced to participate in an abortion, federal agency says.

The state of California will not be getting $200 million in federal Medicaid funds because the state requires that all health care plans subject to regulation by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) cover abortion without exclusion or limitation. 

That decision was announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in a move enforcing federal conscience laws.

At the same time, HHS has referred the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement after an investigation of UVMMC’s violation of the conscience protection laws known as the Church Amendments.  

“OCR concluded that UVMMC unlawfully forced a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over the nurse’s conscience-based objections and has refused to change its policies to prevent future coercion,” HHS said in a press release. 

Both cases were hailed by two leading Catholic bishops. 

“We strongly commend the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for taking concrete steps to enforce long-standing and fundamental civil rights laws,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “These bi-partisan laws recognize that it is an abhorrent violation of conscience rights to force someone to perform, pay for, or otherwise participate in an abortion against their beliefs. Sadly, violations of these laws have increased in recent years, so we are deeply grateful to OCR for taking these strong and just actions to enforce the law.”

The bishops expressed their hope that such enforcement will continue in the coming Biden Administration. 

“Because the right of freedom of conscience does not diminish as administrations change, we hope that today’s actions to enforce these crucial federal conscience laws will be sustained until the violators come into compliance,” Dolan and Naumann said. 

The OCR, through its Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, is charged with enforcing federal conscience statutes, including the Weldon and Church Amendments, and helping ensure entities come into compliance with these and other federal laws that protect conscience rights and prohibit coercion in health care. 

Roger Severino, OCR Director, commented, “Whatever one thinks of the legality of abortion, no one should be punished for declining to pay for or assist in the taking of human life.”

AbortionReligious Freedom
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