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Vanderbilt revamps application language after protests

Vanderbilt University has revamped their Women’s Health Nurse Residency application after the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a civil rights complaint earlier this week, alleging that the application basically required applicants to state that they would assist with abortions.

ADF, a Christian legal organization, argued that the application materials were in violation of a federal law that prohibits recipients of federal funds from requiring employees to perform or assist in procedures that violate their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

According to, the application materials included a clause that stated, “If you are chosen for the Nurse Residency Program in Women’s Health track, you will be expected to care for women undergoing termination of pregnancy. It is important that you are aware of this aspect of care and give careful consideration to your ability to provide compassionate care in these situations. If you feel you cannot provide care to women during this type of event, we encourage you to apply to a different track of the Nurse Residency Program to explore opportunities that may best fit your skills and career goals.”

Vanderbilt said that the language did not mean that nurse residents would be required to assist with abortions, and cited a long-time policy that exempts employees from participating in activities that would violate their religious or ethical beliefs. University spokesman John Howser told the Tennessean that “the letter was only meant to inform applicants that they would be expected to provide high-quality care to women receiving a variety of procedures, including abortion” but that it “did not mean to suggest that residents would be required to participate or assist in the actual procedure.”

Vanderbilt University has since re-written the application materials and no longer requires a signature of agreement before considering an application complete. The new application includes information that lets applicants know how they can file requests to be exempted from participating in abortions.

What do you think of Vanderbilt’s actions? Have you ever been asked to provide care in a morally uncomfortable situation?


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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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4 Responses to Vanderbilt revamps application language after protests

  1. alhansen32

    We, as nurses, never have the option to deny any patient the highest quality care. If we truly believe in our patient’s autonomy (as we do our own), we cannot make choices for them.
    I am against abortion. I believe it kills a child. I would never participate in murder. BUT I would never deny the best possible care to a mother who terminates her pregnancy, either before or after the abortion. To do so would, in essence, be denying her the right to autonomy.

  2. I would not personally assist in an abortion unless it was not an elective procedure. However, I absolutely would provide the highest quality care possible to a woman recovering from an abortion.

  3. Fruit & Nut Practitioner

    I can’t say I understand the concern over over the language used in Vanderbilt’s application. It clearly calls for nurses to provide compassionate care to women who terminate their pregnancies. I guess I don’t get why the statement is even in the application. We as nurses provide compassionate care to violent criminals, victims, combative, demented, mentally ill patients. We educate people about their disease and treatment options, and support their decisions. We judge others because we are human. This does not mean we are entitled to withhold care because we personally find their decision distasteful.

  4. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. It is sad that those not comfortable with abortion are often drowned out in the medical profession. I am pleased to hear that Vanderbilt is taking steps to make nurses feel more comfortable in their role.