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Nurses Forced to Help with Abortions - GOP Lawmakers Say HHS Secretary 'Sabotaging Federal Conscience Protections'

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

A group of more than 80 U.S. lawmakers is expressing outrage that the Biden administration has decided to stop protecting the conscience rights and religious liberties of pro-life Americans.

Republican lawmakers are still demanding a response from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra for his involvement in the dismissal of a lawsuit where a nurse was forced to assist in an abortion despite her objections.

A letter, signed by dozens of lawmakers, was sent to Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland in August, accusing the men of dropping a case against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) which had forced the nurse to help with an elective abortion. 

The move was led by Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and James Lankford (R-OK). In their letter, a clear message was sent that the nurses' conscience rights had been violated.

"Your handling of this case is a profound miscarriage of justice and a rejection of your commitment to enforce federal conscience laws for Americans of all religious beliefs and creeds—and especially for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who object to abortion," the members of Congress wrote to President Biden's appointed Attorney General and Secretary of HHS.

According to The Daily Signal, Becerra and Garland told U.S. employers that the Biden administration would not impose federal conscience laws and "would rather allow consciences to be violated at the behest of the abortion lobby rather (than) enforce the law and protect religious liberty." 

Even though lawmakers requested that Becerra reply by Aug. 27, he didn't respond to Sen. Cotton until Nov. 4, and even then, he didn't answer their questions.

Sen. Cotton told The Daily Signal on Monday, "Xavier Becerra is too busy protecting hospitals that violate the rights of their nurses to give a straight answer. The Biden administration needs to answer for why its health secretary is sabotaging federal conscience protection laws."

In his response, Becerra neglected to address any of the specific questions that the Republicans asked, namely why the HHS and the Justice Department dropped the lawsuit against the hospital.  

Instead, Becerra wrote a broad denial, saying, "HHS remains committed to the enforcement of all its legal authorities, including statutes which protect the exercise of conscience and religious freedom, and we appreciate having the benefit of your views on this matter."

Lankford told The Daily Signal that Becerra's "nonresponse" was "unacceptable."

"Unfortunately, it is not surprising, based on the secretary's history of dodging congressional inquiries," the Oklahoma lawmaker said. "Secretary Becerra clearly would rather promote abortion and force individuals to participate in the taking of the life of children in the womb, rather than enforce the law that protects people of conscience."

CBN News previously reported that in December 2020, the DOJ had filed its case against UVMMC for unlawfully forcing a nurse—who had submitted a conscience and religious discrimination complaint against the hospital—to assist in an abortion despite her objection.

According to the complaint, the hospital had scheduled approximately 10 nurses with registered conscience objections to assist with nearly 20 abortion procedures.

The DOJ lawsuit came in the wake of a notice of violation issued by the HHS Office for Civil Rights in August 2019 after "a thorough investigation and prolonged attempts to resolve the matter." 

In that notice, the HHS Office for Civil Rights asked the hospital to take corrective action to conform its policies with federal statutes or face legal action.

Federal law, known as the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. § 300a-7(c)(1)), prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating against individuals who do not wish to participate in abortion because it violates their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

"Your actions signal to employers all around the country that they don't need to comply with the law because your agencies will not enforce it," the lawmakers warned in their letter. "They also signal that this administration would rather allow consciences to be violated at the behest of the abortion lobby rather enforce the law and protect religious liberty."

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