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Protection of Conscience Project

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Service, not Servitude
Repression of Conscience

Hospital Aide Fired for Refusing to Clean Abortion Instruments

Valparaiso, Indiana, U.S.A. (1986)

Sean Murphy*

Introduction

Elaine Tramm was fired despite the fact that Indiana had a protection of conscience statute. It took three years to win a lawsuit against the hospital; five months later, a jury awarded her $5,200.00 in compensatory damages and more than $18,000.00 in punitive damages (Johnson, Elizabeth, "For Reasons of Conscience", Our Sunday Visitor, 11 November, 1990).

The following excerpt from the judgement of the District Court sets out the circumstances leading to her dismissal.

Elaine L. Tramm vs. Porter Memorial Hospital et al
United States District Court, Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division
Civil No. H 87-355
21 December, 1989

... On November 13, 1986, the plaintiff, Elaine Tramm, was hired by the Porter Memorial Hospital (PMH) as a part-time Workroom Instruments Aide and was assigned to the Portage Medical Surgical Center (Center). . . On December 1, 1986, Tramm began a full-time orientation program . . . The job description for an aide included cleaning surgical instruments and handling surgical specimens. Tramm claims that at the time she was hired she was not aware that abortions were performed at the Center or that the job description included cleaning abortion instruments. On December 7, 1986, Tramm learned that the Center was equipped for abortions. Tramm subsequently informed her supervisors, Leslie O'Toole, Isobel Cardonna, James Pingatore, and Donald Wadle, that she was a Roman Catholic and that because of her religious beliefs she was opposed to cleaning and preparing instruments used in performing abortions or handling fetal tissue after abortion procedures. On December 12, 1986, Tramm claims that another Aide, Marlene Haller, told her to clean instruments that had been used in abortion procedures. According to Tramm, she cleaned the instruments because she was afraid of losing her job. However, PMH and Haller contend that Tramm voluntarily cleaned the instruments and that Tramm had been told by another employee, Patty Munoz, not to handle the specimen containers.

To comply with the Indiana Conscience Statute I.C. 16-10-3-2, PMH permitted doctors and other hospital employees who would otherwise be involved in abortion procedures to sign a "Conscience Form" stating their opposition to abortion. After signing this form, the employee would not be required to participate in an abortion procedure. Tramm requested that she be allowed to sign PMH's "Conscience Form", that she not be scheduled to work when abortions would be performed, that she be allowed to clean different instruments, or that she be transferred to another job. Cardonna, Wadle and Pingatore discussed Tramm's views with Malasto, the Administrator of PMH, and he approved the recommendation that Tramm's employment be terminated. On December 15, 1986, Tramm met with Pingatore and Wadle and again informed them of her religious objections to cleaning abortion instruments. The administrators informed Tramm that she would be fired if she refused to perform her job duties which included cleaning the abortion instruments. When Tramm told them she would not clean the abortion instruments, she was discharged. . . .

. . . .there is no evidence that PMH ever questioned Tramm regarding the sincerity of her beliefs before terminating her. . . .PMH has not set forth any facts to dispute the sincerity or genuineness of her beliefs or activities . . . .

. . . .it is clear that Tramm informed her supervisors about the conflict once she realized that her employment duties would include cleaning abortion instruments. . . .Finally, it is clear that Tramm was discharged during the December 15, 1986 meeting for failing to perform job duties because of her religious beliefs. Since PMH has presented absolutely no evidence to challenge the sincerity or genuineness of Tramm's beliefs, it must be concluded that Tramm's beliefs are sincere, that she informed her supervisors of those beliefs, and that she was terminated because of them. . .

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