Court Holds Health Care Conscience Act Trumps County’s Immunity Claim

News Release

For immediate release

Mauck & Baker LLC

ROCKFORD, Ill.—On Monday, Chief Judge Eugene Doherty rejected Winnebago County’s primary defense that the Tort Immunity Act shielded it from liability for claims that Rockford nurse Sandra (Mendoza) Rojas brought against it after she was forced out of her job for refusing to participate in abortion-related services. Rojas’ right to refuse to participate in such services is protected under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act and Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A devout Catholic, Rojas worked for the Health Department for 18 years providing pediatric care, immunizations, and screenings.

In 2015, the county’s new Public Health Administrator, Dr. Sandra Martell, merged the pediatric clinic with women’s health services and mandated that all nurses be trained to provide abortion referrals and participate in the provision of abortifacients like Plan B. When Rojas, who Dr. Martell considered to be a “good nurse,” informed the administration of her conscientious objections to participating in any way in the provision of abortions, Dr. Martell gave Rojas two weeks to either quit or accept a demotion to a temporary job as a food inspector. Rojas refused the demotion and lost her job at the clinic.

The suit seeks damages under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act which prohibits public officials from discriminating against a person in any manner because of their conscientious refusal to participate in any way in the provision of abortions. The Act provides for treble damages and the recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs. “Nursing is more than just a job, it is a noble calling to protect life and do no harm. There is something terribly wrong when you are forced out of your job on account of your commitment to protect life,” said nurse Rojas.

Rojas’ attorney, Noel Sterett, from the law firm Mauck & Baker in Chicago, said, “The Conscience Act was written to ensure that both public and private health care professionals would be protected from government efforts to force them out on account of their conscientious objections.” Denise Harle, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel said, “Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to perform or assist in abortion procedures. An individual’s conscience and commitment to the Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm’ is often what draws health care workers into the medical field.”

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Contact:
Mauck & Baker Attorney
Noel W. Sterett, Esq.
312-726-6454

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