An Illinois county must pay more than $370,000 in attorney’s fees for requiring a Christian nurse to refer women for abortions and provide abortifacient contraceptives, a state judge ruled Wednesday.
Sandra Rojas had worked as a pediatric nurse for 18 years in the Winnebago County Health Department when, in 2015, she and other nurses were required to undergo training that involved learning about abortion referrals and abortifacient contraceptives.
Rojas objected, saying her Christian faith prohibited her from assisting in abortion services. Although her supervisor gave her a temporary religious accommodation, Rojas was told that the training and the abortion-related services were required to work in her position.
Rojas resigned her position and then sued the county, alleging it had violated her freedom of religion and freedom of conscience rights.
Judge Eugene G. Doherty of the 17th Judicial Circuit sided with Rojas last year, ruling the department “improperly discriminated” against Rojas “by refusing to accommodate her objections of conscience.” The department, the judge ruled, had violated the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.
On Wednesday, Doherty ordered the county to pay $374,104 in attorney’s fees.
Alliance Defending Freedom served as co-counsel in the case alongside Noel Sterett of Dalton & Tomich and Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker.
“Medical professionals should never be forced to engage in or promote activities that violate their beliefs or convictions,” said ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot. “Sandra served as a nurse according to her conscience and religion – a right for medical providers that is protected under Illinois and federal law. The court’s fee award sends a clear message that health care workers are free to practice medicine in a manner consistent with their conscience and religious beliefs, and there will be a steep penalty if the government fails to respect that legally protected freedom.”
Doherty said the case presents “legitimate interests in conflict.” Rojas “had a right” to have her objections respected, and the county “had the right” to run its clinic. He noted that the county offered Rojas a position in a nursing home. Still, the county “could have reasonably accommodated” her “without removing her from her job,” he ruled, adding that the clinic would have operated efficiently even with her objections.
The case is Rojas v. Martell.
Photo courtesy: Medicalert/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.