NY nurse threatened, forced to assist in late-term abortion

ADF attorneys file lawsuit against hospital for violating Christian nurse’s rights of conscience
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

NEW YORK — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Mount Sinai Hospital on behalf of a Catholic nurse who was forced to participate in a late-term abortion under the threat of disciplinary action, including possible termination and loss of her license. The hospital has known of her religious objections to abortion since 2004.

Hospital administrators told the nurse that the scheduled abortion was an “emergency,” though evidence shows otherwise, and insisted moments before the procedure that she assist doctors despite her repeated objections to the procedure, which dismembered a preborn child in the 22nd week of gestation. By federal law, hospitals that receive federal funds cannot force employees to participate in abortion procedures under any circumstances.

“Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to assist in abortions against their beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Requiring a devout, Catholic nurse to participate in a late-term abortion in order to remain employed is illegal, unethical, and violates her rights of conscience. Federal law requires that employers who receive funding from tax dollars must not compel employees to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs, but this nurse’s objections fell on deaf ears.”

“Chasing away workers from the health care field is disastrous health care policy,” said Bowman. “An individual’s conscience is likely what brought them to the health care field. Denying or coercing their conscience will likely drive them right out.”

Administrators at Mount Sinai Hospital threatened senior nurse Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo with disciplinary measures if she did not honor a last-minute summons to assist in a scheduled late-term abortion. Despite the fact that the patient was not in crisis at the time of the surgery, the hospital insisted on her participation in the procedure on the grounds that it was an “emergency” even though the procedure was not classified as such.

“Category I” is the classification reserved for “patients requiring immediate surgical intervention for life or limb threatening conditions.” The surgery in this case was classified as “Category II,” for operations needing to take place within six hours, indicating that the hospital had no reason to insist upon Cenzon-DeCarlo’s assistance in the abortion in order to protect the patient. Plenty of time existed to find a different nurse to assist, especially since evidence indicates that the patient’s condition did not rise even to a Category II. In fact, Cenzon-DeCarlo observed no indications that the abortion was a medical emergency while in the operating room.

ADF attorneys filed the complaint in Cenzon-DeCarlo v. The Mount Sinai Hospital with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. They are also requesting a preliminary injunction that would order the hospital to honor Cenzon-DeCarlo’s religious objection against assisting in abortion and refrain from retaliation against her while the case moves forward. New York ADF-allied attorneys Joseph Ruta and Piero Tozzi are serving as local counsel in the case. 

  • Fact sheet on lawsuit, including links to resources

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.