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Protection of Conscience Project

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Service, not Servitude
Repression of Conscience

Nurse Denied Employment, Forced to Resign

A Two Tiered System of Civil Rights

British Columbia, Canada (1977-1984)

Sean Murphy*

Bradley, an operating room nurse with 15 years experience, was told that she could keep her position only if she assisted in abortions. As a result, she went to Children's Hospital, and eventually left the nursing profession. She has not worked in the health care field since 1984.

Registered Nurse Linda Bradley had been refused employment at four British Columbia hospitals when she applied to work at Richmond General Hospital in 1977. Langley Memorial, Peace Arch Hospital, Delta Hospital and Vancouver General had all denied her employment because she was unwilling to assist in abortions. When asked if she would assist in abortions at Richmond General, she agreed. By that time she was desperate for a job.

Nurse Bradley was involved with abortions at Richmond General for about two years, assisting at about nine abortions monthly. The abortions occupied a total of about four hours of her work each month.

One day, however, she was told to scrub for a hysterotomy of a woman 5 1/2 months pregnant. A hysterotomy is a Caesarean section performed for the sole purpose of killing the child. Reason for the abortion: "multiparity". The woman had had previous pregnancies.

Bradley was horrified. She advised her supervisor that she would not assist. If she refused to assist in this abortion, she was asked, would she would assist with other abortions? Shaken by what was being demanded of her, Bradley said she could no longer do so. Advised that this was a condition of employment, she consulted the Registered Nurses Association of BC. Acting on RNABC's advice, she resigned rather than forcing the hospital to fire her. She did this to avoid tarnishing her record with RNABC, which would have jeopardized her career.

Appealing to the British Columbia Human Rights tribunal, Linda Bradley was told that she was not eligible for protection because her refusal was for moral and not religious reasons.

Nurse Bradley found work at St. Vincent's Hospital, and later at the Grace Hospital. When the Grace Hospital closed in 1982 its operations were transferred to a new medical centre on Oak Street. Bradley, an operating room nurse with 15 years experience, was told that she could keep her position only if she assisted in abortions. As a result, she went to Children's Hospital, and eventually left the nursing profession. She has not worked in the health care field since 1984.

Canadians are familiar with warnings that Medicare should not be allowed to develop into a two-tiered health care system: first class treatment for the rich, and second class (or worse) for the poor.

Commenting in retrospect on her experience, Bradley said, "They've set up a two tiered system of civil rights: one for people with money to hire a lawyer and take an employer to court, and another for the rest of us."

She added, "It may be a two tiered system, but there's no way of winning even if you have the money to fight it."

 

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