By Amanda Vicinanzo
In a major pro-life victory, a court has determined that an Illinois nurse was wrongfully fired after being forced to participate in abortion and refer women to abortion facilities in violation of her Catholic faith.
Last week, the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Winnebago County ruled in favor of Sandra Mendoza Rojas, who filed a lawsuit in 2016 against the Winnebago County Health Department for violating her religious beliefs and conscience.
Rojas was hired by the health department as a part-time pediatric nurse in 1996. During her employment, the women’s health clinic and pediatric clinic were consolidated; consequently, her position would involve women’s health issues in the consolidated clinic. In turn, three nurses — including Rojas — objected to participating in abortion referrals and contraception.
The health director wrote a letter agreeing to temporarily accommodate Rojas’ objections and gave her 14 days to “consider her options.” In the letter, the health director said they could no longer accommodate Rojas in the consolidated clinic, but she could work as a part-time food inspector or as a nurse at a nursing home.
In response, in July 2015, Rojas submitted a letter of resignation, costing her $18,000 in salary and $213,000 in pension benefits.
In 2016, she filed a lawsuit claiming the department violated the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, which protects medical workers who object to abortion. ADF attorneys served as co-counsel for Rojas along with lead counsel Noel Sterett of Dalton & Tomich.
“Medical professionals should never be forced to engage in or promote activities that violate their beliefs or convictions,” said ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves. “Sandra found her calling serving as a pediatric nurse, helping children overcome health obstacles and lead fulfilling lives. She chose to practice medicine according to her conscience and religion — a right for medical providers that is protected under Illinois and federal law — yet the Winnebago County health department wrongfully forced her out of a job when she declined to participate in abortion-related services. The court’s ruling protects Sandra’s freedom to practice medicine and care for her young patients in a manner consistent with her conscience and religious beliefs.”
Ultimately, the court concluded that the health department could have continued to accommodate Rojas without removing her from her job. They determined the clinic could continue to provide services while respecting Rojas’ objections of conscience.
The court’s decision sends a clear message to health care professionals in Illinois that they don’t need to violate their consciences to keep their jobs.
Unfortunately, the fight for life is far from over in Illinois. Just weeks ago, Live Action News reported that Illinois lawmakers made the state less safe for minors, erasing parental protections by repealing the Parental Notice of Abortion Act. The repeal of the act did not reflect the voice of Illinois residents. Polling earlier in 2021 revealed that 72% of Illinois residents felt parents should be notified before a minor obtains an abortion, with 58% of even self-identified “pro-choice” people supporting the law.
Although these issues show that much more remains to be done to protect mothers and preborn children in Illinois and across the nation, the court’s protection of Rojas’ objections of conscience is a step in the right direction.