Nurse Practitioner Files First Lawsuit Challenging New VA Abortion Policy
In what could be the first of numerous legal challenges to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) new abortion access policy, a nurse practitioner employed by the VA is suing the agency, claiming the policy violates her religious beliefs.
Filed on behalf of Stephanie Carter, MSN, RN, an Army veteran and nurse practitioner at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center in Temple, Texas, the suit alleges that Carter’s “sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit her from offering abortion services and providing counseling required by application” of the agency’s policy. Carter also contends that the policy violates her rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that the VA has no process in place to receive religious accommodation requests from healthcare workers, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
The lawsuit requests a court to rule that the policy is illegal, and to block the VA from enforcing it at the center where Carter works. The VA disputed this claim, saying it provided VA healthcare employees with information on how to file exemption requests through their supervisors, Becker’s reports.
“From the moment VA announced this new rule, Secretary [Denis] McDonough has made clear to all employees that their religious beliefs are protected here at VA,” a Veteran Affairs spokesperson told Becker’s. “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.”
The VA announced the new policy in September of this year, not quite two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.
Per an interim final rule the department submitted to the Federal Register, the VA will provide access to abortion counseling and, in some cases, abortions to pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries. Specifically, the VA will provide access to abortions when the life or health of the pregnant veteran would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. VA beneficiaries enrolled in CHAMPVA will also have access to this care.
In a September statement describing the new policy’s implementation as “a patient safety decision,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said that “pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver.”
More Legal Challenges Ahead
Carter is the first VA employee to file a lawsuit related to the organization’s new abortion access policy. But the agency can count on more legal challenges in the days ahead.
For example, a group of 15 Republican attorneys general has made clear that it plans to fight the VA’s policy in court, sending a Nov. 17 letter to McDonough criticizing what they see as the administration’s “lawless and hasty executive actions taken at the behest of its political base” concerning abortion.
The coalition, which included officials from states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia and West Virginia, warned McDonough that “we will not allow you to use this rule to erect a regime of elective abortions” in defiance of state laws.
“And we will enforce our duly enacted state laws and hold you accountable for violations of federal law,” the group wrote, warning that those who perform abortions based on the new rule and in violation of state or federal laws “do so at their own risk.”
Less than one month after that letter surfaced, Republican members of the House and Senate introduced a resolution that would reverse the VA’s abortion policy, according to a Military.com report.
Introducing the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, Republican senators could force a vote on the measure even though Democrats control the chamber. And, while not enough time is left to force a vote this congressional session, the resolution’s lead Senate sponsor, Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, plans to reintroduce it in 2023 and collect signatures for the discharge then, Military.com’s Rebecca Kheel wrote.
For its part, the Department of Veterans Affairs has thus far stood firm, and has declared its intention to keep its new abortion policy in place.
The agency aims to remain “committed to providing veterans the full range of reproductive health services,” read a VA statement issued in response to the aforementioned attorneys general letter, “to ensure their health and well-being.”
20 December 2022
HR News Article