Nurse Persecuted by Army Hospital for Being Pro-Life

Author: Michael A. Flach

"Nurse Persecuted by Army Hospital for Being Pro-Life"

By Michael F. Flach

ARLINGTON, Va. A nurse's clinical privileges have been terminated at the Dewitt Army Hospital at Ft. Belvoir, Va., for refusing to prescribe the abortifacient contraceptive Depo-Provera. Judith Schiminsky, a Catholic and professed member of the Third Order of Preachers (Dominicans), has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint citing discrimination on the basis of her religious beliefs. A credentials hearing was scheduled for May 14.

Depo-Provera is a chemical derivative of progesterone which is injected in a woman once every three months. It makes the lining of the uterus inhospitable to the fertilized egg and has been available in Third World countries for over 30 years.It was approved for contraceptive purposes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1992 after a lengthy legal battle. It is attractive to military hospitals because it is an inexpensive, long-term abortifacient, Schiminsky said.

But its side effects can be devastating. It causes breast cancer and a majority of women experience infertility after eight months of injections, she added. Schiminsky, a native of Minneapolis, received a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and a master's in nursing from Pace University in New York. Prior to becoming a nurse practitioner, she taught the handicapped, learning disabled and the deaf for eight years. She entered the Third Order of Preachers as a novice in 1987 and made her perpetual vows in 1991. She attends Sacred Heart Church in Washington, D.C.

She has been an experienced nurse practitioner for 15 years. She worked for Georgetown Hospital prior to taking the job at Ft. Belvoir. A nurse practitioner can do many of the same things as a doctor, such as administer tests, perform routine examinations and prescribe medication.

Schiminsky started working at Dewitt Army Hospital on Dec. 26, 1995. In completing the processing forms, she stated that she promoted Natural Family Planning (NFP), a natural method of spacing births approved by the Catholic Church. NFP is 98 percent effective and considered the safest, healthiest family planning tool by the World Health Organization. She also stated that she would not prescribe contraceptives, most notably Depo-Provera.

At a staff meeting on Feb. 26, she was singled out as the only nurse practitioner (out of six) who did not prescribe Depo-Provera. From that time until her notification on March 29 that her clinical privileges had been terminated, Schiminsky said she was the subject of a campaign to drive her out of the military clinic. Her superiors began to question her competency and whether or not she could be a "full service" provider if she would not prescribe contraceptives.

"Ft. Belvoir officials could have terminated me at any time since I was on a 90-day probation period," she said, "but they decided to attack my competency." Schiminsky maintains there is no incidence of malpractice or substance abuse involved in her case. "We're dealing with a Catholic identity issue," said Schiminsky, who attends daily Mass and wears a cross and scapular around her neck.

If the May 14 hearing does not restore her privileges at Ft. Belvoir, Schiminsky fears the next step could be an attempt to revoke her nurse practitioner's license. If the case goes to the state board, it could jeopardize her employment as a nurse practitioner at any hospital or clinic in the nation. She is currently seeking expert medical witnesses to appear at the May 14 hearing, preferably ex-military or non-military doctors or nurse practitioners. Anyone who can assist her should call 202/667-6253.

"Will nurses and doctors who cannot in good conscience condone or assist in any kind of abortion be required to go along or lose their jobs?" Schiminsky asked. "Is the U.S. military now going to recognize chemical as well as surgical abortions? What will the military's position be on RU-486, cytotec and methodtrexate, all of which are expected to be approved (by the FDA) at the end of this year?"

Despite the impending hearing, Schiminsky continues to work at Ft. Belvoir's EKG unit.

This article appeared in the May 3, 1996 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN