A Christian legal group filed a civil rights complaint Tuesday against a Tennessee, alleging that the school’s nursing program violates federal law by requiring applicants to participate in abortion procedures.
Vanderbilt University has denied the claim, but the Alliance Defense Fund claims that the school’s nursing-residency application materials violate national laws that prohibit schools receiving federal funds from requiring someone to perform or assist in abortions.
According to ADF, the school requires applicants to sign an acknowledgment, stating: “I am aware that I may be providing nursing care for women who are having” procedures, including terminations of pregnancy.
“It is important that you are aware of this aspect of care and give careful consideration to your ability to provide compassionate care to women in these situations,” the documents state. “If you feel you cannot provide care to women during this type of event, we encourage you to apply to a different track of the Nurse Residency Program to explore opportunities that may best fit your skills and career goals.”
The ADF complaint, filed on behalf of an unnamed Mississippi woman, was submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. According to HHS, Vanderbilt received $313.6 million in federal funding during fiscal year 2008.
“Christians and other pro-life members of the medical community shouldn’t be forced to participate in abortions to pursue their profession,” Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a news release.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman John Howser said the application’s acknowledgment was created to inform applicants that they will be asked to provide care to women who have had, or are seeking, abortions. It does not mean that residents with religious or moral objections will be required to participate in the actual procedures.
“The letter was added in order to create an awareness that terminations are performed here at Vanderbilt,” Howser said. “If you choose to participate (in the nurse residency program), you will around patients who have had or are seeking terminations, and you may be asked to care for them. It does not say that you are required to participate in performing or in the performance of terminations.”
Additionally, the university says it has its own, specific policy that exempts employees from participating in certain activities due to religious beliefs.
But David French, ADF’s senior counsel and director of its Columbia-based Center for Academic Freedom, suggests that the university should include the policy in its application materials so students know their rights. “The issue here is their application materials,” French said. “You can’t create a better way to screen out pro-life applicants if you try. That violates the (federal law) regardless of whatever policy they might have.”