Cathy became a nurse to save lives, but her world crumbled around her when her supervisors demanded that she take a life, or lose her job.
Standing in the rubble of her high school in the Philippines just moments after a devastating earthquake, Cathy watched in fascination as medical teams rescued her classmates. That day, she decided to become a nurse. Her dream of saving lives led her to leave her family and country to move to New York City to work as an operating room nurse.
When she was hired in 2004, Cathy made it clear: “I don’t do abortions.” At the time, the hospital assured her she would never have to compromise her devout Catholic faith, but times changed. One morning five years later, Cathy prepared for a common procedure following a miscarriage, only to realize that the procedure was going to be performed on a live pre-born baby at 22 weeks. Horrified, she called the resident doctor on duty, then her supervisor, who told her to call her supervisor.
When that supervisor informed her that Cathy would have to assist with the abortion, Cathy reminded her in tears about her agreement with the hospital. She pointed out that the surgery was labeled a Category II, meaning it could take place anytime over the next six hours – plenty of time to call another nurse. But the supervisor insisted that this was an emergency -- the mother’s life hung in the balance. If Cathy didn’t assist in this life-or-death situation, she told her, she would be charged with insubordination and abandoning her patient. Her career would be over.
Cathy decided to trust her supervisors, but as soon as she saw the patient, she knew she made a mistake. The woman’s life was clearly not in danger, but at that point, there was no going back. She watched in horror as the doctor dismembered and removed the bloody limbs, and then she had to account for all the pieces. “It was like something out of a horror film,” she said.
That night, she found Alliance Defending Freedom. Two days later, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, she filed complaints against her supervisors for forcing her to violate her faith. After an investigation, Mount Sinai Hospital changed its policies to protect the rights of all medical personnel. Not only can they now object to participating in abortions, they can do so even in an emergency.
Cathy still has nightmares about her horrific experience, but she can rest assured that because of her stand, many other pro-life nurses won’t have to go through what she did.
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Cenzon-DeCarlo v. The Mount Sinai Hospital
What's at stake
- Freedom of conscience for medical professionals to not be forced to participate in abortion
- Protecting Christians from religious discrimination in the workplace
In May 2009, Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, was forced to participate in a late-term abortion despite her longstanding religious objection to participating in abortions due to her Catholic beliefs. The hospital threatened Mrs. DeCarlo with the loss of her job and her license if she refused to participate in the abortion. Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of Mrs. DeCarlo, and in March 2010 additionally asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the conscience violations at the hospital, to ensure that rights of conscience would be respected at Mt. Sinai.
In February 2013, following the HHS investigation, Mt. Sinai made changes to its policies and procedures to ensure that medical personnel would not be forced to participate in abortions under any circumstances. As a result of the HHS complaint filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, Mt. Sinai agreed to go further by putting in writing that it will abide by federal conscience protection laws, train employees about the hospital’s obligation to those laws and how to properly keep records of those who are objecting or not objecting to participating in abortions, and update a Human Resource policy to state that the hospital will not engage in any form of employment discrimination based on an employee’s refusal to participate in an abortion.
“Pro-life medical personnel shouldn’t be forced to participate in abortions, and the new policies and procedures at Mt. Sinai reflect that,” said Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The hospital seems to have decided to do the right thing and respect the conscience rights of its employees, who are protected by both federal and state law. We will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that the new policy is followed.”
Our role in this case
Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of Mrs. DeCarlo. ADF attorneys also asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct an investigation into the practices and procedures of Mt. Sinai. ADF worked with longtime allied attorney Joseph Ruta to represent Mrs. DeCarlo in federal and state court.