An Illinois trial court ruled Wednesday that Winnebago County must pay more than $374,000 in attorney's fees for requiring a Christian nurse to provide abortion referrals and contraception.
Sandra Rojas worked as a pediatric nurse for the Winnebago County Health Department for 18 years. In 2015, she was told that she must issue abortion referrals and abortion-inducing drugs to pregnant mothers.
Rojas refused, saying her Christian faith prohibited her from participating in abortion services. She resigned from her position and filed a lawsuit against the county, stating that the orders violated her freedom of religion and freedom of conscience rights.
Alliance Defending Freedom served as co-counsel in the case alongside Noel Sterett of Dalton & Tomich and Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker.
"Healthcare professionals should not be required to violate their conscience to keep their jobs. Thankfully, Illinois has laws that protect a health care professional's right to not participate in the provision of medical services which violate their conscience," Sterett said.
Circuit Court Judge Eugene Doherty issued an attorney fee award of $374,104.
"The Health Department improperly discriminated against (Rojas) by refusing to accommodate her objections of conscience in her existing job at the clinic," the court wrote in its ruling. "The Court has concluded that the Health Department could have reasonably accommodated (Rojas') objections without removing her from her job."
Sterett is hopeful this case will send a clear warning to employers about the importance of honoring someone's religious beliefs.
"Nurse Rojas's case set significant precedent and now stands as a seminal case under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act," Sterett stated. "The Court's fee award will hopefully encourage other public and private health care employers to respect their employees' rights of conscience."
He added, "No American should be forced to refer for abortions or assist patients in accessing abortifacients—least of all medical workers who entered the profession to follow their faith and save lives, not take them. The court's decision is a win for all health care professionals throughout Illinois. Healthcare professionals should not be required to violate their conscience to keep their jobs."
Have you have had an abortion, are contemplating ending your pregnancy, or would like pregnancy-related resources, please click here.