RFI Supports Senate Letter Demanding DOJ and HHS Uphold Medical Conscience Rights

August 13, 2021

The Religious Freedom Institute recently joined a group of organizations expressing support for an important letter issued by Senators Tom Cotton, James Lankford, and Andy Harris to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra. The letter raises grave concerns over their decision to dismiss a December 2020 lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for repeatedly violating federally mandated conscience-protection laws to which UVMMC is subject as a federal grant recipient. 

UVMMC received notice of its first violation on August 28, 2019 after requiring a nurse with conscience objections to assist with an elective abortion procedure. This action was in direct violation of the Church Amendments passed unanimously by Congress, which prohibit HHS grant recipients from discriminating against a healthcare provider who “refused to perform or assist in the performance of… abortion on the grounds that his performance of the procedure or abortion would be contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

The Senators’ letter reads: 

UVMMC has received grant funding from HHS since 1998, including more than $1.6 million dollars in FY2018-FY2020. It is thereby bound to abide by the Church Amendments as a condition of receiving federal funds. HHS informed UVMMC that it needed to conform its policies to the Church Amendments and take other corrective action.

UVMMC maintained policies and practices that placed demands on its medical personnel with conscience objections to participate in abortion procedures. The Office of Civil Rights for HHS found that 10 nurses with registered conscience objections were called upon to assist with approximately 20 abortion procedures. 

On December 16, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued UVMMC for violating the Church Amendments. However, under its current leadership, HHS revoked the notice of violation, revoked the referral, and requested that the DOJ dismiss the entire lawsuit. As the letter points out, “The DOJ did in fact voluntarily dismiss the case on Friday, July 30, 2021, without any binding settlement or requirement that UVMMC remedy its unlawful policies or make restitution to, or even acknowledge, the nurse whose rights it violated.” 

The letter continues: 

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. 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. They also signal that this administration would rather allow consciences to be violated at the behest of the abortion lobby rather than enforce the law and protect religious liberty. We demand a full explanation of your agencies’ actions.

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) stands in support of upholding medical conscience protections for all medical practitioners and views these protections as indispensable for safeguarding religious liberty in the United States. And RFI urges this administration to hold violators such as UVMMC accountable.

Additional members of Congress signing onto the letter include: Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Steve Daines (R-MT), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Rick Scott (R-FL),  John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Lee (R-UT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Jim Risch (R-ID), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Braun (R-IN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), John Thune (R-SD), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Representatives Mike Rogers (R-AL), Barry Moore (R-AL), Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Paul Gosar, DDS (R-AZ), Debbie Lesko  (R-AZ), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Doug LaMalfa (R-AZ), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), John Rutherford (R-FL), Kat Cammack  (R-FL), W. Gregory Steube (R-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Scott Franklin (R-FL), Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), Jody Hice (R-GA), Andrew Clyde (R-GA), Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), Mike Bost (R-IL), Jim Banks (R-IN), Larry Bucshon, M.D. (R-IN), Randy Feenstra (R-IA), Mariannette Miller-Meeks, MD (R-IA), Jake LaTurner (R-KS), Tim Walberg (R-MI), Jack Bergman (R-MI), Michael Guest (R-MS), Billy Long (R-MO), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Ted Budd (R-NC), Gregory Murphy, M.D. (R-NC), Richard Hudson  (R-NC), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Jim Jordan  (R-OH), Robert E. Latta (R-OH), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Kevin Hern (R-OK), Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), William Timmons (R-SC), Jeff Duncan  (R-SC), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Joe Wilson (R-SC), David Kustoff (R-TN), Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), Lance Gooden (R-TX), Jodey C. Arrington (R-TX), Pat Fallon (R-TX), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Randy Weber (R-TX), Pete Sessions  (R-TX), Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), Ronny Jackson, MD (R-TX), Blake Moore (R-UT), Bob Good (R-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), David McKinley (R-WV), Alex Mooney (R-WV), and Glenn Grothman (R-WI),

Organizations joining the Religious Freedom Institute in supporting the letter are the American Center for Law and Justice, Concerned Women for America LAC, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Family Policy Alliance, American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, March for Life Action, Susan B. Anthony List, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Right to Life, American College of Pediatricians, Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Catholic Medical Association, Coptic Medical Association of North America, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Heritage Action.