A nurse looks after a premature baby inside an incubator
A nurse looks after a premature baby inside an incubator at an Egyptian public hospital in the province of Sharkia to the northeast of Cairo on June 10, 2008. Reuters

A group of nurses in New Jersey are asserting their religious right to not assist in abortion with a federal lawsuit, which says that health professionals should be able to decide whether or not to help in an abortion procedure, based on their beliefs.

The lawsuit filed on Oct. 31, by twelve nurses, alleges that the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey doesn't comply with state and federal laws which exempt employees with religious or ethical beliefs against abortion to refrain from taking part in an abortion procedure.

I'm a nurse so I can help people, not help kill, and it just doesn't seem right to me, Beryl Otieno-Negoje, one of the nurses, was quoted by the Washington Post. No health professional should be forced to choose between assisting abortion and being penalized at work.

The University Hospital issued a statement that no nurse is compelled to have direct involvement in, and/or attendance in the room at the time of, a procedure to which she or he objects based on his/her cultural values, ethics and/or religious beliefs, adding that the university complied with federal and state laws currently in place.

According to the American Nurses Association's (ANA), Code of Ethics, a nurse can refuse to participate in abortion on moral grounds.

According to ANA, Where a particular treatment, intervention, activity, or practice is morally objectionable to the nurse....the nurse is justified in refusing to participate on moral grounds....The nurse is obliged to provide for the patient's safety, to avoid patient abandonment, and to withdraw only when assured that alternative sources of nursing care are available to the patient.

On Nov. 3, U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares barred the hospital from making abortion care training mandatory for nurses.

The nurses' attorney Matt Bowman said the hospital argues that the pre- and post-surgical care for abortion patients is similar to that received by patients who have undergone other surgical procedures.

The nurses' refusal to participate in abortion procedure is quite similar to the case of pharmacists who refuse to dispense emergency contraception and other prescription contraceptives.

Many argue that healthcare professionals' demand for rights often inundates their responsibilities toward the patients, colleagues, employers or the public.

However healthcare organizations' code of ethics warrants nurses to exercise their freewill in the case of abortion assistance.

According to the Association of Women's Health, Nurses have the right, under responsible procedures, to refuse to assist in the performance of abortion and/or sterilization procedures....Nurses have the professional responsibility to provide high quality, impartial nursing care to all patients in emergency situations....to provide nonjudgmental nursing care to all patients, either directly or through appropriate and timely referral....[and] to inform their employers, at the time of employment, of any attitudes and beliefs that may interfere with essential job functions.