NASHVILLE, Tennessee, September 9, 2011 ( – As long as she can remember, Anne Marie Dust has cared deeply about human life … every human life. She remembers as a young woman participating in Life Chain, and says that her parents’ open-to-life attitude was a fundamental inspiration to her.

Anne Marie eventually came to believe that nursing was where she belonged, especially in the field of women’s health. “To be a nurse is to care incredibly for other people, to care deeply for them, to care for what is best for them. You use your heart and you use your hands. That’s it, at its core,” says Anne-Marie in a video of her story, prepared by the Alliance Defense Fund.

To follow her dream, Anne Marie applied at the end of her 2010 senior year of college to the Nurse Residency Program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her goal was to pursue a career providing care to pregnant women and their pre-born children.


Not only was Anne Marie pre-qualified to apply to Vanderbilt’s nurse residency program, but she was a stellar applicant with excellent grades.

But as she pored over the application, she was shocked to discover that Vanderbilt required her to certify in writing that she would agree to participate in abortions.

The application stated that if “you feel you cannot provide care to women during this type of event, we encourage you to apply to a different track of the Nurse Residency Program.”

“If abortions were a requirement, then there was no point in completing the application,” Anne Marie told For the aspiring nurse it was clear that the whole point of being a nurse is that you “care for people.”

As a pro-life student Anne Marie was alert to the culture-of-death attitudes that permeated her college. “In my nursing classes, it was assumed that if you were ‘for’ women’s health you were not also pro-life. In college classes in general, the pro-life point of view was not even given consideration in my classes or campus affairs.”

While turning the University’s nursing application over in her mind, Anne Marie decided that it was time to make a stand for her convictions. With the help of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), she filed a federal complaint to the Department of Health and Human Services in early January 2011.

The complaint objected to the university’s “illegal discrimination” in forcing students who are serious about their pro-life beliefs to violate their “federal rights of conscience” by agreeing to assist in abortions.

ADF had solid legal ground to stand upon. Federal law prohibits schools that receive Federal grants from denying admission to applicants for training or study because of that applicant’s reluctance to assist — or in any way participate — in the performance of abortions, contrary to the applicant’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. Vanderbilt receives over $300 million in federal health tax dollars each year.

Anne Marie told LSN that when she filed the complaint she initially experienced “fear” because it might lead to backlash at her school, or limit her ability to take the boards, or narrow her job prospects. “Once I decided though, there was great peace because I knew that I had done what I needed to do, and that the rest was going to depend on God’s providence.”

“At the end of the day you have to stand up for what is most important to you,” said Anne Marie, who planned to go forward with nursing, even if it was not at Vanderbilt.

Within 26 hours of ADF’s letters being sent to federal authorities, the university rescinded its policy that required students to agree to participate in abortion, said David Cortman, Senior Counsel.

In the letter addressed to all who applied to the Vanderbilt Nurse Residency Program, Debianne Peterman, Director of the program, verified that “no health care provider is required to participate in a procedure terminating a pregnancy if such participation would be contrary to an individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

“Not only was this a victory for Anne Marie, but it is a victory for every student that will come after her,” said Cortman.

Anne Marie’s story has already inspired pro-life students who wish to become nurses.

“As a nursing student, it scares me that performing abortions is part of nursing school training. Like [Anne Marie] Dust, I will fight if I am expected to assist in murdering unborn children. I am becoming a nurse to care for people…not kill them,” said Caitlin Ann on a LiveAction blog.

For Anne Marie, taking a stand was not about politics, or religion, but about “addressing what is best for women”.

“It really just comes down to doing what you know needs to be done.”

According to a recent article in the National Catholic Register, more and more nurses and medical students in the future may be forced to stand up for their rights in the same way as Anne Marie. In the article Daniel Kuebler, a professor of biology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, points to evidence that pro-life students in the medical field are being systematically discriminated against.

“This situation makes it imperative that the pro-life community speaks out to Congress and encourages the passing of strongly worded conscience-protection laws for health-care workers,” said Kuebler.

But as for Anne Marie, she recently passed the nursing boards and is now a practicing nurse who helps moms on bed-rest before delivery at an Antepartum unit in Illinois.

To watch a video about Anne-Marie’s struggle with Vanderbilt, click here.