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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Mauck & Baker Attorney
Noel W. Sterett, Esq.
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No, Politico, Conscience Protections Are Neither ‘So-Called’ Nor ‘Controversial’

There is simply no historical ground upon which Politico can claim that protecting the right of medical professionals not to participate in abortion has been ‘controversial’ since Roe v. Wade.

The Federalist
Reproduced with permission

Casey Mattox

Government shouldn’t force people to violate their consciences. Until recently, that opinion hasn’t been particularly controversial, even where actual controversial issues like abortion were involved. One can support abortion and still think government shouldn’t discriminate against medical professionals who don’t perform abortions.

But if you want to gin up opposition to something, it presumably helps to pretend that it’s your opponent who is the extremist. You can’t very well admit that it’s your own opinion that is historically extreme and your opponent who has history on his side. That’s a much harder sell.

Perhaps this is why, in a story yesterday about the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office to address conscience and religious freedom for medical professionals and institutions, Politico casually dropped this nugget: “So-called conscience protections have been politically controversial since shortly after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.”

This claim may be politically useful, but it is demonstrably false. At the risk of appearing to repeatedly bludgeon this false narrative to death, it’s important to understand just how inexcusably wrong this instance of fake news is, and how these sorts of so-called “mistakes” drive narratives that create today’s politics.

Shortly after Roe v. Wade

Weeks after the Supreme Court released its decision in Roe v. Wade, Congress enacted the first of the federal laws aimed at protecting conscience in light of this newly minted “right” to abortion. The Church Amendment, named for its sponsor, Idaho’s longtime Democratic Senator Frank Church, ensured that Catholic hospitals could continue to provide health care to millions of Medicaid patients without being forced to also perform abortions.

That provision passed 372-1 in the House and 92-1 in the Senate. Noted right-winger Sen. Ted Kennedy spoke in favor of the law on the floor of the Senate, calling it necessary “to give full protection to the religious freedom of physicians and others.”

A Democrat-controlled Congress added additional “so-called conscience protections” to the Church Amendment for these individual medical professionals and in federally funded programs over the next few years. The idea that these laws were controversial would have been a surprise to the bipartisan coalitions in Congress voting for them.

In 1992, Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, testified in favor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (yep, you read that correctly), saying RFRA would protect “such familiar practices as . . . permitting religiously sponsored hospitals to decline to provide abortion or contraception services.” The ACLU didn’t think conscience was either “so-called” or “controversial” in 1992.

In 1996, a bipartisan Congress again defended conscience rights, enacting the Coats-Snowe Amendment to the Public Health Services Act with President Bill Clinton’s signature. This law prohibits the federal government and any state or local government receiving federal funds (i.e., all of them) from discriminating against physicians or health-training programs or their participants on the basis that they don’t provide or undergo abortion training or perform or refer for abortions.

Forty-seven states have enacted laws protecting medical professionals from being discriminated against because of their objection to participating in abortion, most of those becoming law in the years immediately following Roe.

But everything above is just icing on the cake. Politico could have confirmed its narrative was false just by reading Roe. Addressing the concern that this new right to an abortion might result in attempts to force medical professionals to perform them, the Supreme Court explained this wouldn’t happen because the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates had already broadly defended the exercise of religious and moral conscience in the abortion context, quoting it in Roe:

Be it … resolved that no physician or other professional personnel shall be compelled to perform any act which violates his good medical judgment. Neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally held moral principles. In these circumstances good medical practice requires only that the physician or other professional personnel withdraw from the case so long as the withdrawal is consistent with good medical practice.

In the companion case Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court called a state law allowing hospitals not to admit patients for abortions and prohibiting them from requiring medical professionals to assist in them an “appropriate protection to the individual and to the denominational hospital.”

There is simply no historical ground upon which Politico can claim that protecting the right of medical professionals not to participate in abortion was “controversial” at the time of Roe or in the decades thereafter. It has only become “controversial” to defend the right of people to think differently and to live according to their own moral compass when the political left recently abandoned this classically liberal principle in favor of government compulsion.

The whole article reads like a horror movie in search of a villain. Its writers and interviewees know that HHS committing resources to safeguard the conscience of medical professionals and institutions that deliver health services to Americans is an evil plot. They just don’t know how. So the authors introduce the reader to none of these laws (available on the HHS Office of Civil Rights website with handy links), vaguely assert that all of this is really about LGBT issues (it’s not), and try to make boogey-men of those in this new office.

What Politico doesn’t do is inform readers that those advocating for government to compel medical professionals to perform abortions are actually the ones advocating for a departure from our historical common ground of respecting one another’s conscience. That, apparently, would complicate the narrative.

Casey Mattox is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. You can follow him on Twitter at @CaseyMattox_.

 

U.S. bishops, other Catholic groups back conscience protection bill

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 32 other organizations have signed a joint letter of support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017.

The bill, which has House and Senate versions, is intended to close loopholes that ignore the conscience rights of medical professionals on abortion, according to the signed letter.

“Even many ‘pro-choice’ Americans realize that the logic of their (opponents’) position requires them to respect a choice not to be involved in abortion,” said the letter, dated Sept. 6 and addressed to senators. . . [Full text]

llinois Judge Suspends Abortion Notification Law

Measure forces pregnancy centers to promote abortion

Church Militant

Stephen Wynne

ROCKFORD, Ill. (ChurchMilitant.com) – In a setback for mandatory abortion referral laws, a federal judge is halting implementation of an Illinois notification measure.

U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Kapala has temporarily suspended enforcement of SB1564, a measure that compels pro-life pregnancy care centers and doctors to publicize abortion to their clients. In his ruling, Kapala warned that SB1564, an amendment to the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, may threaten religious liberty and free speech rights.

SB1564 went into effect January 1. In response, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates joined with 18 Illinois pregnancy care centers to challenge it in court. . . [Full text]

 

No room in Sweden for a pro-life midwife

A Swedish midwife vows to continue her battle for the right to refuse to participate in abortion.

OneNewsNow

Charlie Butts

Elinor Grimmark, a midwife,  has stated that she chose the profession to help bring life into the world.

Sweden slammed the door on her career when Grimmark, a Christian, refused to participate in abortion on moral and ethical grounds. . . [Full text]

 

Swedish midwife turns to European Court of Human Rights

News Release

Alliance Defending Freedom

STRASBOURG, France – A Christian midwife filed her application with the European Court of Human Rights Wednesday against Sweden. Elinor Grimmark had to seek work in another country because she refused to participate in abortions. Because the Swedish courts have failed to recognize her freedom of conscientious objection, she is asking the European court to hear her case, Grimmark v. Sweden.

“The desire to help bring life into this world is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place. Instead of forcing desperately needed midwives out of a profession, governments should look to safeguard the moral convictions of medical staff,” said ADF International Director of European Advocacy Robert Clarke. “Ellinor’s case could determine whether people who value life at all stages of development will be able to pursue a medical career in the future. Sweden has failed to protect this midwife’s fundamental right to freedom of conscience guaranteed by international law.”

Three different medical clinics had refused to employ Grimmark because she would not assist with abortions in light of her convictions about the dignity of all human life. On April 12, the Swedish Labour Court of Appeal refused to protect her freedom of conscience and instead found that Grimmark’s rights had not been violated.

The court required her to pay the local government’s legal costs, amounting to more than 150,000 euros. ADF International filed an expert brief in support of her case with the Swedish court, highlighting the protection for freedom of conscience that exists under international law.

“I chose the midwifery profession because I wanted to help bring life into this world,” explained Grimmark during a media background briefing in Strasbourg Wednesday. “I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions. I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same.”


ADF International is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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On Medical Conscience and Assisted Suicide, Good News from Vermont and Maine

Evolution News & Science Today

Wesley J. Smith

With the attacks on medical conscience increasing, here’s some fine news. Alliance Defending Freedom has successfully obtained a consent decree that protects doctors in Vermont from having to counsel about assisted suicide to legally qualified patients if they are morally or religiously opposed. From the decree:

Plaintiffs and similarly situated medical providers do not have a legal or professional obligation to counsel and refer patients for the Patient Choice at End of Life process [e.g., assisted suicide].

That’s good. . . [Full text]

 

Midwife loses freedom of conscience case, will appeal Swedish law to not be forced to perform abortions

Global Dispatch

Butter Braco

A Christian midwife is appealing her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after she was denied employment opportunities due to her views regarding abortion.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is supporting Ellinor Grimmark of Sweden, arguing that various places of employment infringed on her freedom of conscience in their refusal to hire her due to her views on abortion.

In November 2013, a job offer Grimmark received from a women’s clinic was withdrawn after it became known that she opposed abortion. A similar scenario occurred in 2014.

Grimmark took her case to court in 2015, but the District Court of Jönköping ruled that freedom of conscience could only be invoked when a person is not religious. . . [Full text]

 

Swedish midwife opposed to abortion appeals to European Court of Human Rights

Michael Cook*

Swedish midwife Ellinor Grimmark has decided to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights over Sweden’s hard line on conscientious objection.  The Swedish Appeals Court decided earlier this month that the government can force medical professionals to perform and cooperate in abortions, or else be forced out of their profession. Because the ruling in Grimmark v. Landstinget i Jönköpings Län appears to contradict international law protecting conscientious objection, Grimmark wants to appeal to Strasbourg. . . .
Full Text

Court Rules Nurse Fired for Refusing to Assist Abortions Must Do Abortions to Keep Her Job

Lifenews

Steve Ertelt

Ellinor Grimmark is a nurse in Sweden who filed a claim that the hospital where she worked discriminated against her because she refused to participate in abortions.

Newly-graduated, Grimmark was fired from her position because she refused to assist abortions. Even though there was a shortage of midwives at the time she was fired and even though she is willing to take on double shifts, she has been denied a job ever since. One employer had first agreed to hire her in spite of the “complication”, but withdrew the offer when her story began to spread in media. . . But a Swedish court ruled today that Grimmark has no choice but to participate in abortions if she wants to keep her job. . . [Full text]