Texas nurse sues VA over new federally funded abortion policy

(The Center Square) – A health care worker has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs saying the federal agency has not allowed her a religious accommodation to avoid…

(The Center Square) – A health care worker has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs saying the federal agency has not allowed her a religious accommodation to avoid participating in the agency’s new federally funded abortion plan.

First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Stephanie Carter, a nurse practitioner at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center in Temple, Texas. She’s worked for the VA for 23 years.

The issue began after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, allowing states to make their own laws about abortion. In response, the Biden administration announced the VA would begin performing elective abortions at VA medical facilities.

“Ignoring the value and necessity of that public debate, the Biden Administration decided to usurp congressional directives and immediately provide abortions and abortion counseling to veterans at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) medical facilities despite a decades-long prohibition on such activity,” the suit reads.

This news put Carter in a tough spot. She requested a religious accommodation to avoid the new rule, but she says she was told there was no such option.

“As an Army veteran herself, and as a Christian who views her nursing work as a calling, Ms. Carter relished the opportunity to serve her fellow veterans as a nurse practitioner,” the suit said. “All of that changed suddenly on September 9, 2022, when the VA published the Rule. Because of her religious beliefs, Ms. Carter cannot perform, prescribe, or counsel for abortions, or work in a facility that performs abortion services for reasons other than to save the life of the mother because, in her view, unborn babies are created in the image of God and should be protected.”

Carter’s lawyers pointed to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that strictly requires the federal government to accommodate religious objections similar to this one.

“The VA has no compelling interest in applying the Rule to Ms. Carter because Congress also did not grant the Secretary of the VA the authority to implement the Rule without following the democratic rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedure Act…,” the suit said.

The VA has pushed back, though.

“From the moment VA announced this new rule, Secretary McDonough has made clear to all employees that their religious beliefs are protected here at VA,” said VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes. “While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, VA does provide accommodation for VA employees who wish to opt out of providing abortion counseling or services. We are currently honoring exemption requests that come through VA supervisors. We have provided all VA health care employees with this information – including information for how to exercise those protections through VA’s Office of Resolution Management Diversity and Inclusion – and we have encouraged employees to inform their supervisors of any requests for exemptions.”

The violation of workers’ conscience and taxpayer funding of abortion has sparked criticism and now, a legal filing. How the case will turn out remains to be seen.

“It is unconscionable that the Biden administration would force health care workers at VA facilities to violate their consciences,” said Danielle Runyan, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The VA should be focused on caring for the men and women who bravely served to protect our country, not on performing illegal abortions. The new VA Rule disregards longstanding federal law that prohibits VA clinics from performing abortions and fails to account for the sincerely held religious beliefs of medical providers who are impacted by the Rule.”