Veterans Affairs formalizes conscience protections for employees who object to abortion participation

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According to, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sent out guidance on Friday, January 6, establishing a formal opt-out process for employees who have conscience objections to participating in abortions. In September 2022, the Biden administration mandated that abortions be committed at VA hospitals. 

The move to formalize an opt-out process comes on the heels of nurse practitioner Stephanie Carter’s lawsuit against the VA abortion mandate, which argued that the mandate violates religious liberties. Carter, who is employed at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center, says her supervisor denied her request to opt out of handling and distributing abortion pills, at one point telling her to “just wait” until the VA put a formal exemption process in place. 

A fact sheet accompanying the new guidance released Friday stated:

VA’s goal is to meet the needs of veterans while protecting VA employees’ statutory rights, including those that protect their religious exercise and beliefs. Physicians (MD and DO), residents, fellows, and medical students (physician trainees) may, for any reason, opt out of performing induced abortions, receiving or providing training in the performance of induced abortions, providing referrals for such training or such abortions, or making arrangements for training or performance of induced abortions.

Officials stressed this is not a change in policy, but merely a formalization of existing practices. Under this formalized process, employees will work out an exemption request in concert with a supervisor and a reasonable accommodation coordinator. The specifics of the request will vary depending on the employee’s specific job and which conscience protection laws apply to them. While the exemption requests are being processed, managers are supposed to temporarily excuse employees from participating in abortions.

“From day one, Secretary McDonough has made clear to all employees that their religious beliefs are protected here at VA,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement. “VA continues to provide accommodations for VA employees who wish to opt out of providing abortion counseling or services.”

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