Pro-life nurses are facing a threat in hospital restructuring plans made necessary by financial cutbacks in some parts of the country, particularly Ontario.

The consolidation of maternity areas and obstetrical-gynecological services is one sector in which rationalization is planned. Such a development would mean that nurses working until now exclusively in maternity face the prospect of having to assist in abortion service.

Problem seen

The fact doesn’t sit well with Mary-Lynn McPherson, national coordinator of Nurses for Life in Ottawa. “I can see it being a problem in areas where they’re left with one or two hospitals and there are very few options,” she says. “I’m getting quite worried that nurses who refuse to perform a health service are not going to be hired.”

McPherson says pro-life nurses are confronting an additional squeeze in the form of pro-euthanasia Bill S-13 now before the Senate. The bill, being pushed by senators Sharon Carstairs and Wilbert Keon, proposes legal protection for health care workers who perform euthanasia, but fails to mention protection for those who don’t want to participate.

That goes in tandem with the fact that no legal protection currently exists for health care workers who want to opt out of participating in abortions.

“Canadian Nurses For Life has been trying for years to get protection for health care workers who, for reasons of conscience, don’t want to assist with some procedures. We have gotten nowhere,” says McPherson.

“If we don’t have protection against having to assist with abortion, why should we expect there will be any protection against have to assist with euthanasia?”
McPherson says the scenario means job prospects for pro-life nurses may become increasingly bleak.

“With a euthanasia ethic coming to the fore, nurses also won’t be able to work in other areas because they will have to participate in the killing of their patients. Pro-life nurses won’t be able to work anywhere and pretty soon hospital will only hire nurses who will participate in the killing.”

Last year, five nurses at Markham Stouffivlle Hospital in Ontario filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission after they were put in the position of having to participate in abortions. One of them filed a $1 million lawsuit, alleging she was additionally subjected to harassment and excessive monitoring of her work after her objections to participating in abortions became known.

A similar situation emerged in February in Albany, N.Y., where two nurses say they were fired by a hospital for refusing to perform abortions. The two have filed a lawsuit seeking to regain their jobs.

McPherson says an emphasis on abortions illustrated by the situation in Pemborke, Ont., where a hospital restructuring committee has recommended that the general hospital close while a Catholic one which won’t perform abortions, stay open.

“There is a lot of pressure bring put on the restructuring committee to change that and close the Catholic hospital. Otherwise, there won’t be abortion in Pembroke. That is essentially the only reason.”

Sate of affairs

The situation is also emphasized by the state of affairs in Hamilton, where proposals are in place to consolidate maternity wards at the two city hospitals which offer abortions. Abortion services at the McMaster and Henderson hospitals would remain intact.

“It’s a slap in the face to the people of Hamilton, pregnant mothers and physicians,” says an angry Dr. Carmelo Scime of Hamilton Physicians for Life.

“It’s ironic they don’t have money or staff for the very purpose of a hospital … yet they have all kinds of many and so-called staff for the destruction of human life.”

Scime says a similar situation exists at nearby Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, ON, where cutbacks are slated for maternity services while abortion provision will not be slated for any kind of reduction.