Nurses who refused to assist in abortion disciplined
New York, USA (2010)
The Long Island Catholic
April 14, 2010 | Vol. 49, No. 4
Reproduced with permission
EAST MEADOW - Eight nurses who refused to participate in
an abortion at Nassau University Medical Center here March 31 are resisting
disciplinary action levied on them by hospital officials.
"This is a horrendous situation," said one of the labor/delivery nurses
disciplined who asked that her name not be used. She and the others, she
said, had signed paperwork at the time they began working there stipulating
that they would not be required to assist in abortions but have often faced
pressure to do so.
Some of the nurses involved have lost vacation time and others have their
cases still pending, union officials report.
"The decision against these nurses by the hospital goes against protocol,
goes against procedure, and goes against the law," said Jerry Laricchiuta,
president of the Civil Service Employees' Association (CSEA) Nassau Local
830. The union is filing a grievance and is "considering litigation."
"This was not an emergency situation and at no time was the patient
endangered," said Ryan Mulholland, communications director for the CSEA
The hospital's administrator, Arthur A. Gianelli, president and CEO of
NuHealth System, declined to comment, citing "confidentiality requirements."
Joining the union in speaking up for the nurses are the Long Island
Coalition for Life and Feminists Choosing Life of New York State.
On March 30, the patient, who was about 15 weeks pregnant, came to the
hospital for surgery to prevent a miscarriage, Mulholland said. She had come
to the hospital before because of complications. After preparation for
surgery began, further complications ensued. The next day, she decided to
have an abortion rather than undergo the surgery.
"Several of us had put in letters years ago stipulating that we do not
participate in abortions," the labor/delivery nurse noted. "There are many
reasons for that, other than our religious beliefs, and we represent many
different religious backgrounds. Most of the doctors don't perform abortions
So the attending physician asked them for assistance in contacting a
nurse who would be willing to assist with an abortion, she said. Because the
patient was stable and in no danger and was being monitored for vital signs,
the physician decided to wait until later in the afternoon for that nurse to
Meanwhile, hospital personnel asked the refusing nurses to sign a form
for employees who refuse to perform or assist in procedures contrary to
their conscience or religious beliefs, Mulholland said. One of the nurses
contacted the union representative, who came to the maternity ward to assess
"They were asked to sign it on the spot and it was three or four pages
long," said Laricchiuta, local president. Even though it was dated December
2009, he said, neither employees nor union officials were familiar with the
form. Hospital procedure requires that employees be informed about any new
policies before being asked to comply with them.
The procedure began when the nurse willing to assist in abortion came on
duty. The baby died before the procedure was completed, Mulholland said,
with no ill effect to the woman.
On April 2, all the nurses who resisted assisting in the abortion were
verbally reprimanded, Mulholland said.
In addition, three lost vacation time and the other five also face
further disciplinary action.
They were cited for alleged insubordination, failing to provide patient
care and endangering patient safety, refusal to sign the form, refusing to
accept transfer of a patient from another unit, and conducting union
business in a patient care area. No specific reference to abortion was made.
"In addition to what the union is doing," the labor and delivery nurse
noted, "some of the nurses are considering filing legal action," and also
filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Celeste Broyles, treasurer for the Long Island Coalition for Life, said
that the coalition supports the nurses and their union. "Health care workers
should not be coerced or pressured into assisting in or performing
"We appreciate that there are health care workers who recognize that
human life begins in the womb," Broyles said. "It is unfortunate that the
hospital would put health care workers in that situation."
Florence Scarinci, Long Island representative for Feminists for Choosing
Life of New York State, said "it is sad that 'pro-choice' always seems to
mean the choice to have an abortion, rather than the choice not to
participate in abortion."