In a column in the May issue of Thornhill Month, John Stephens asked, “Must it be a matter of either job or conscience?” Until now, he wrote, the Birthplace Unit at the Markham-Stouffville Hospital has been used as the name implies. Now, nurses in the unit who abhor abortions are being told either to assist at these procedures or accept transfer to another department. “For nurses who have developed great skill at the birthing process,” Stephens pointed out, “this means giving up the job they love, and losing the opportunity to practice their expertise. In other circles, this would be called wrongful dismissal.”
What is worse, Stephens added, the hospital is being deceptive. It is asking nurses whether they will consent to look after patients using a new definition of obstetrics it has prepared. At first sight, the document seems inoffensive: who could object to looking after a woman who will deliver a healthy child, or who has gone through a spontaneous abortion, or whose child is stillborn? “What the hospital won’t tell you,” says Stephens, “is that the spontaneous abortion wasn’t, perhaps, so spontaneous, and that if the fetus should be born alive, the doctor will allow it to die. Likewise, the diagnosis of stillbirth hides the fact that a doctor may have caused the death of the fetus. This is abortion.”
A person cannot be fired for refusing to work on Sundays if his religion prohibits it, but a nurse can apparently be fired or transferred because she will not assist at what her religion tells her is the murder of a child. If the province can spend millions of dollars setting up abortion clinics, Stephens said, it can well afford to hire nurses prepared to take part in abortions, rather than forcing others to go against their consciences. It does not have to force abortions on birthing units either. And if hospitals pride themselves on being responsive to the community, this one should make plain how the recent decision was made and why the nurses are under such compulsion.
Some of the comments included in the Badley Report (1977) brought out a number of reasons, apart from religion, why nurses do not want to participate in abortions. Some of these comments were fairly brief: “Personally I dislike assisting in abortions because it is uncomfortable for me to remove parts of a so-called ‘torn up fetus.’”
“I have been involved in operations where a fetus has moved. I find this distressful and feel no government has a right to inflict this treatment or moral responsibility on an individual.”
One longer submission made the very telling point that, when a doctor has given a pregnant woman a saline injection, it is usually or at least very often the nurse who has to take care of the extremely unpleasant consequences.
“I feel as if my rights were transgressed – a doctor can refuse to abort any patient he wishes – I’m forced to nurse – and deliver – the patients having abortion. Recently one of the doctors was present and helped deliver a foetus following a saline induced abortion – he now says he’ll not do any more saline injections – I’m not permitted to make this choice…The death on our unit following a therapeutic abortion was very stressful to the staff (patient 18 years old) and even now, four years later, that patient is still remembered.” Evidently abortion is not necessarily the painless and harmless procedure Morgentaler makes it seem to be – and for a nurse, it may cause a great deal of stress and anxiety.
Does her freedom of conscience not matter at all? For years Nurses for Life, led by Peggy Madill and Helen McGee, has tried to secure the passage of a conscience clause – such as exists in New Zealand, Great Britain, and many states of the U.S.A. – which would enable health professionals to refuse to participate in abortions and not be penalized for doing so. The Liberal government argued in 1969 that it was self-evident that no one would be forced to participate in abortions and therefore a conscience clause was unnecessary. As Father de Valk pointed out in his Morality and Law in Canadian Politics, since 1969 there has been a serious decline of tolerance concerning the freedom not to perform abortions. Most nurses find the destruction of life the very opposite of what they believe. But the pro-abortionists count on them gradually becoming “enlightened” and conditioned. So a conscience clause is becoming ever more necessary. Such callous treatment of nurses as is going on at the Markham-Stouffville Hospital is completely wrong.
“I firmly hope these nurses will appeal to the Ontario Human Rights Commission,” wrote John Stephens, “because the hospital has blatantly discriminated against them.” Whether they will feel satisfied to trust their case to the tender mercies of the Commission is open to question. At any rate, they have been forced to become involved in a most disagreeable conflict with the hospital authorities and to o to the expanse of employing legal counsel. Largely because of pressure from two pro-abortion doctors, they feel that their own respect for human life is being dismissed as unimportant, and there is a steady downward descent in working conditions at the hospital. No doubt this is a situation which the provincial government is glad to encourage.
So much for “pro-choice.” “Must it be a matter of either job or conscience?” Stephens asks. Why should it be? Is there no sense of justice left in Canada?