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Major win for conscience: VA concedes, implements a nationwide exemption process for pro-life medical workers


“Stephanie Carter is living proudly by her faith and should not be forced to choose between her faith and her career. Because of her courage, every VA employee in the nation can now seek a religious accommodation from participating in a procedure they find unconscionable.”


In response to a lawsuit from one of its employees, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed to create a religious exemption process for all medical workers who object to performing abortions.

Quick Facts

Last fall the VA published an interim final rule allowing it to provide abortions to veterans and beneficiaries. The VA claimed it can provide abortions when the health or life of the mother are considered endangered or if the baby was conceived through rape or incest.

In December, veteran and nurse practitioner Stephanie Carter, who has been a VA employee for 23 years and is currently working at a VA clinic in Texas, filed a lawsuit claiming that she requested a religious exemption but was informed by a supervisor that no process was in place to consider her request.

Carter, who is a Christian and views nursing as a calling, said in her legal complaint that she cannot “work in a facility that performs abortion services for reasons other than to save the life of the mother because … unborn babies are created in the image of God and should be protected.”

She was represented by First Liberty Institute. On Monday, First Liberty said in a press release that Carter’s suit had led to a nationwide religious accommodation process for VA employees.

“We’re pleased that the VA implemented a nationwide policy to protect the religious liberty rights of all VA employees. Stephanie Carter is living proudly by her faith and should not be forced to choose between her faith and her career. Because of her courage, every VA employee in the nation can now seek a religious accommodation from participating in a procedure they find unconscionable,” Danielle Runyan, Senior Counsel for First Liberty said.

First Liberty has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Opponents of the new VA rule claim that the VA is violating federal law, which bars the department from using taxpayer dollars for abortions.

The VA implemented the rule and bypassed the 30-day comment period normally required under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by claiming there was good cause for doing so, which was that the lives and health of veterans and their families were at risk. The department claims that its rule supersedes state laws, meaning that even if abortion is illegal in a state, a VA clinic may perform abortions. The VA’s claim is shaky as no state law bans abortion if the life of the mother is at risk. In the post-Dobbs era, many organizations have taken it upon themselves to bypass these types of laws by citing that they can perform abortions when the “health” of the mother is at risk; however, the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of taxpayer funds for abortions in the U.S. and many state laws clearly state that the mother’s actual “life” must be at risk of imminent death in order to receive an exempted abortion.

This is a critical victory. Now those who work at the VA and hold the religious belief that abortion is wrong will not be forced to participate in a gruesome procedure that leads to the death of a preborn human being.

The right to religious conscience is one of our most sacred freedoms. George Washington wrote in a letter to the United Baptist Churches of Virginia that “no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution—For you, doubtless, remember that I have often expressed my sentiment, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

While this change in policy means that religious medical workers will no longer be required to participate in abortions, the VA is still openly violating both the law and the religious beliefs of millions of Americans. As the Freedom Center detailed in a story last year, the VA is prevented from performing abortions under Section 106 of the Veterans Health Care Act. As Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., stated, Section 106 “directs the VA to provide women with ‘general reproductive health care … not including … abortions. Only Congress can change federal law and Congress has held for the past 30 years that the VA is not permitted to offer abortion services.”

While the VA argues that it does have the authority to change the law, as recently as March 2021 the VA’s own website said the opposite. The website stated that the VA “cannot, by law, provide abortion services.” This was noted by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kans., who argued, “VA’s prohibition on abortion services is more than a policy decision or regulatory matter, it’s the law.”

Americans who are convinced that abortion is murder are being forced to fund abortion through their tax dollars, which they have no choice but to pay. Federal law has long held that taxpayer funds cannot not be used to pay for abortions, regardless of the belief system of VA officials. As such, the VA should be made to follow the law and stop abusing its power.

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.

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