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Hospital Forced Catholic Nurse to Participate in Abortion

Cathy DeCarlo was forced to participate in an abortion in violation of her beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo is seen standing outside

Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo entered the medical field for one reason: to help others. She had already experienced a traumatic event in her own life, and in its aftermath, she felt called to use her God-given gifts to save lives and care for people.

When Cathy became a nurse, she expected to care for and protect the lives of every person she treated. But she was shocked and disgusted when the hospital that employed her told her that she must assist in the brutal killing of an unborn child.

Who is Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo?

Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo was born and raised in the Philippines. When she was in high school, she lived through a devastating earthquake that heavily damaged her school. As she watched medical teams rescue her classmates from the rubble, she decided she wanted to pursue a career in which she could help others.

Cathy served for a year in the Philippine National Red Cross, and she eventually decided she wanted to become a nurse. She moved to New York to further her nursing career, and in 2004, she was hired as an operating room nurse at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, left, walks and talks with ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman.

Cenzon-DeCarlo v. The Mount Sinai Hospital

Before Cathy even started at Mount Sinai, she made it clear that she could not assist in abortions. She is a devout Catholic, and she explained during a job interview that her faith guided her view of preserving human life.

Officials from the hospital did not express any concerns about Cathy’s objecting to assist with abortions. Mount Sinai maintained a written policy allowing employees to decline to participate in the procedure, and Cathy filled out a form during the application process giving her the opportunity to decline.

But almost five years after she was hired, Cathy was working an on-call shift when she was informed that she needed to assist in a “dilation and curettage” surgery, which is often used for mothers who suffer miscarriages.

As Cathy was preparing the surgery room, she saw a cart arrive with instruments that she knew could be used for live abortions, not miscarriage surgeries. She called the resident assigned to the case, who informed her that the surgery was an abortion of a live, 22-week-old baby.

The mother had been diagnosed with a condition Cathy had treated many times without killing the child. She called her supervisor and explained that consistent with her longstanding written objection, she could not participate in the abortion.

That supervisor then called her supervisor, who said that Cathy must participate in the abortion. Cathy’s bosses claimed the abortion was an emergency and was needed to save the mother’s life. 

From her medical experience, Cathy knew the mother’s life was not in immediate danger. The surgery was also characterized as a “Category II,” meaning the surgery simply needed to take place within six hours. This would have given the hospital plenty of time to find another nurse to assist on the case, but the officials refused.

If Cathy did not participate in the abortion, her bosses told her she would be charged with “insubordination and patient abandonment,” which would threaten her career and her family’s livelihood. She tearfully begged her bosses to excuse her from participating in the abortion, but they would not budge. Cathy decided to follow the orders to keep her job even though she vehemently objected to them.

Cathy was forced to watch as the doctor removed the baby’s bloody limbs from the mother’s womb. She had to view the baby’s dismembered body parts in a cup and pour saline on them as part of her required duties.

Cathy filed a grievance with her union and supervisors after she was forced to assist with the abortion, but her supervisors refused to meet with her because she wished to have her lawyer present. Another official later told Cathy that if she wanted to continue working on-call shifts, she must agree to participate in abortions if they are designated as “emergencies.”

In July 2009, Alliance Defending Freedom and Allied Attorney Joseph Ruta filed a lawsuit against Mount Sinai for discriminating against Cathy based on her religious beliefs.


In addition to the lawsuit, ADF attorneys asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to investigate Mount Sinai’s practices. As a result, the hospital revised its policy to specify that “[i]t is the legal right of any individual to refuse to participate” in abortions, and it put in writing its commitment to abide by federal conscience protections laws.

Long after the event, Cathy still had nightmares about the brutal abortion she was forced to witness. But thanks to these revisions, other nurses at Mount Sinai will not be forced to go through the horrifying experience that Cathy did.

Case timeline

  • May 2009: The Mount Sinai Hospital forced Cathy DeCarlo to participate in the abortion of a live, 22-week-old baby.
  • July 2009: ADF attorneys and Allied Attorney Joseph Ruta filed a lawsuit on Cathy’s behalf.
  • March 2010: ADF attorneys asked HHS to investigate Mount Sinai’s practices.
  • February 2013: Mount Sinai revised its policies to ensure that employees could object to participating in abortions and affirm its commitment to following federal conscience protection laws.

The bottom line

Medical professionals can’t be forced to violate their beliefs by participating in abortion procedures.