Firm Client Files Complaint Against Hospital for Discriminating Against Abortion Provider

In conjunction with the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, has filed a complaint on behalf of Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper, an OB-GYN and Family Planning Fellow, against a Washington, D.C. hospital for discrimination, including prohibiting her from speaking out about abortion. This complaint is one of the first of its kind to use a federal non-discrimination provision on behalf of an abortion provider that is more associated with protecting abortion opponents than supporters. Dr. Horvath-Cosper was profiled yesterday by the New York Times

The complaint, filed yesterday with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asserts that the discrimination Dr. Horvath-Cosper has experienced at MedStar Washington Hospital Center (MedStar) since December 4, 2015, violates the “Church Amendment”—a federal law that, among other things, protects physicians from discrimination in employment based on their moral convictions about abortion.

Dr. Horvath-Cosper is an accomplished family planning physician who has dedicated her career to ensuring women’s safe and legal access to abortion. She believes deeply that she has a duty, as a physician, to speak out publicly about the importance of abortion to women’s health and equality and the need for physicians to be public advocates for the right to abortion in order to  de-stigmatize it. In fact, advocacy is a required component of her fellowship.

“Especially at a time when abortion is marginalized and under attack, I’m compelled to speak out about the importance of abortion as a legal and safe medical procedure that’s critical to women’s health,” said Dr. Horvath-Cosper. “Abortion has become so stigmatized in this country. As a doctor, I have a responsibility to urge that abortion be recognized as the integral part of women’s medical care that it is.”

From July 2014, when Dr. Horvath-Cosper accepted a position as a Family Planning Fellow at MedStar, until December 2015, she spoke out about abortion—including in the media—without any complaint from the hospital. But following the November 27, 2015 shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that killed or injured close to a dozen people, the hospital’s attitude toward Dr. Horvath-Cosper’s advocacy changed. After December 4, the hospital refused to allow Dr. Horvath-Cosper to talk to the media about abortion and related women’s health issues, warned her not to take legal action, isolated her within the Obstetrics-Gynecology Department, and forced her to choose between remaining employed and sacrificing public advocacy on abortion.

Although there are many recommended security measures that MedStar could have taken to protect patient and provider safety, MedStar appears to have adopted only two: hiring a security guard and installing security cameras on February 4, more than two months after the Colorado shootings. MedStar bypassed other security recommendations and instead focused on prohibiting Dr. Horvath-Cosper’s public advocacy on abortion. 

“Safety for abortion patients and providers is critically important, but that’s not what this case is about,” said Gretchen Borchelt, NWLC Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health. “Muzzling employees and otherwise discriminating against them for speaking out about abortion doesn’t bolster the safety of patients and providers—but it does break the law. At this time of increased hostility toward health care professionals who provide abortion services, it’s important that they know there is a law that explicitly protects them from discrimination on the job.”  

The complaint requests that the Office for Civil Rights investigate MedStar and require that it end the discrimination.

Dr. Horvath-Cosper is represented by Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Debra S. Katz and associate Colleen E. Coveney, in conjunction with the NWLC.