Nurse dismissed over ‘morning after pill’

The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, today filed suit in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California on behalf of a health care worker charging that she was fired from her job as a nurse for Riverside County, California after she refused to dispense medication known as a “morning-after” pill designed to end pregnancies. See the ACLJ news release for details.


Protection of Conscience Project one year old

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

The Protection of Conscience Project was officially launched one year ago. The Project is a non-denominational, non-profit initiative that seeks laws to protect the freedom of conscience of health care workers and others, who have come under increasing pressure to participate in morally controversial procedures.

Over the first few months, the original board of advisors grew from three to seven; it now includes members from three continents, four countries and a number of academic disciplines.

During the year, submissions on freedom of conscience were made to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (Ireland), the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (Canada). The potential impact of the Access to Abortion Services Act (British Columbia) was examined in the first Project report, and efforts have been made to support conscientious objectors by facilitating communication, and by referrals and correspondence.

The Project website has been used by some legislators and others advocating for protection of conscience. Entry level pages in English and French are now available on the site. Posted documents are linked to a service that provides free translation of the gist of the text into six languages, with an option for more accurate, paid translation.

There have been over 800 visitors and 1,000 visits to the website since mid-February, 2000, an average of four visits per day. “The numbers aren’t large,”  comments Sean Murphy, the Project Administrator. “But word is slowly getting out to the people who need to hear about it. And comments from people in difficulty indicate that the work being done is appreciated.”

ACLJ files religious discrimination suit against Ca. health agency over “morning after” pill

News Release

American Center for Law and Justice

(Riverside, CA) – The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, today filed suit in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California on behalf of a health care worker charging that she was fired from her job as a nurse for Riverside County, California after she refused to dispense medication known as a “morning-after” pill designed to end  pregnancies.

“This case centers on the rights of our  client to hold religious beliefs and have those beliefs accommodated by her  employer,” said Frank Manion, Senior Regional Counsel of the ACLJ who is representing the nurse. “Our client did not want to dispense medication that she believes places her in a position to participate in an abortion. It is our position that her deeply held religious beliefs were ignored by her employer and it is our belief that she was wrongly fired because of those beliefs.”

The ACLJ filed suit today in U.S. District Court in Riverside on behalf of Michelle Diaz, who worked as a Clinic Health Nurse at the Riverside Neighborhood Health Center. The complaint contends that in March 1999, Diaz and other health professionals expressed their concerns to management about dispensing the so-called “morning-after” pill – medication designed to end pregnancies.  The lawsuit states that Diaz told her supervisor that her deeply held religious beliefs prevented her from distributing the medication because she believed she would be participating in an abortion.

The complaint contends that the Director of Public Health for Riverside County informed her that if she did not sign a document that required her to dispense what the county called “emergency contraception” which included the “morning-after” pill and other pregnancy-ending medications, she  would no longer be able to work at the clinic. Diaz did not sign the document and wrote a letter to the Director of Public Health explaining that her religious beliefs prevented her from doing so.

According to the suit, in June 1999, Diaz was contacted by news reporters concerning the “morning-after” pill controversy and explained her position to the media. The suit contends that on June 23, 1999 – just days after speaking with the media – she was told that she was being terminated.

“This case may represent a new kind of religious discrimination in the workplace as health care professionals strive to follow their consciences as they begin dispensing new pregnancy-ending drugs like RU-486,” said Manion. “A person’s religious beliefs must be respected and accommodated in the workplace. To do anything less is simply wrong and unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit contends that the action taken against Diaz violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution along with provisions in the California Constitution. The complaint contends the County violated her constitutional rights of free speech and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to accommodate her religious beliefs and terminating her employment.

At the same time, the suit contends that Diaz has suffered and continues to suffer financial loss from the termination and damage to her  professional reputation. The suit requests that the court find the actions of the defendants illegal and unconstitutional and requests unspecified damages. The suit also requests a trial by jury.

The suit names as defendants the County of Riverside Health Services Agency, Kenneth Cohen, the Director of the Agency, and Dr. Gary Feldman, who serves as Director of Public Health and as the Public Health Officer for Riverside County.

The ACLJ is being assisted in this case by Robert Tyler of the firm, Tyler, Dorsa & Eldridge in Temecula, CA.

The American Center for Law and Justice is an  international public interest law firm that specializes in constitutional law and focuses on pro-life, pro-family, and pro-liberty issues. The ACLJ is headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA.


Project letter to the editor, The Province

There is a whiff of arrogance, as well as intolerance, in the BC College of Pharmacists threat to discipline conscientious objectors (Pharmacists’ college warns renegades about not dispensing morning-after pill, The Province, 23 November, 2000).

While the moral convictions of conscientious objectors are trivialized by describing them as ‘personal’ or ‘private’, many of those convictions are, in fact, shared by millions in religious, philosophical and moral traditions that have existed for millennia. If such convictions are ‘private’, those of the College are not less so, even if dressed up as ‘the ethics of the profession’. Yet the College refuses to explain – or cannot explain – why its newly-minted code of ethics (1997) is morally superior to the moral or ethical systems that it threatens to suppress.

Moreover, it is unclear why the College demands blind faith in the dogmatic judgement of its Ethics Advisory Committee. Among other things, the College has no policy governing qualifications, selection and appointment of ethics committee members, nor does it appear that any of the current committee members have formal qualifications in ethics or related fields.

Finally, the College has not demonstrated that, with respect to a dissenting minority, it is necessary to pursue a policy of institutional aggression rather than accommodation.

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project


Pharmacists threatened with discipline

The deputy registrar of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia has warned that pharmacists who refuse to dispense the ‘morning after pill’ for reasons of conscience are in breach of the College’s code of ethics. She invited anyone refused the pill to report the dissenting pharmacist to the College, presumably with a view to prosecution for a breach of what the deputy registrar called “pharmacy legislation” (The Province). The Project Administrator responded to the article with a letter to the editor.


Italian pharmacists called upon to exercise conscientious objection

Pharmacists in Italy have been called upon by the Catholic church to be conscientious objectors against the ‘morning after pill’, since it sometimes acts as an abortifacient. The president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference suggested that pharmacists should be allowed to claim conscientious objector status, a protection afforded to doctors and nurses who do not wish to participate in abortion. Governors of northern Lombardy (around Milan) and Latium (around Rome) have affirmed that the rights of pharmacists to conscientious objection would be respected, despite the government’s position that pharmacists would be breaking the law if they refused to supply the drug.


Government declines to rule out prosecution of conscientious objectors

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

A spokesperson for the British Columbia Ministry of Health has declined to provide assurance that health care workers who object to abortion will not be prosecuted under the Access to Abortion Services Act.

The Act could be used to prosecute health care workers in “bubble zones” who decline to participate in abortion, or express disapproval of abortion in meetings or private conversations. It could also be used against clergy or counsellors providing pastoral care in “bubble zones” who provide information about abortion, or express disapproval of abortion.

The potential for conflict was first brought to the attention of the Minister of Health in 1995. It was raised again in correspondence this year with the Okanagan Similkameen Health Region and the Minister of Heath, as a result of discussion about the imposition of  a “bubble zone” at Kelowna General Hospital.

The Minister of Health refused to provide written assurance that the Act would not be applied against conscientious objectors, and refused to amend the Act. The Okanagan  Similkameen Health Region declined to consider the question, since a “bubble zone” had not been imposed on the Kelowna General Hospital.

A report on the subject is available on the Protection of Conscience Project website (Report 2000-01)

Morning-after-pill an abortifacient: conscientious objection by health care workers urged

In a document released by the Pontifical Academy for Life, the mechanism of the morning-after pill is described in detail. The document concludes that “it is clear that in fact the morning-after pill is nothing other than an abortion procured by chemical means,” encourages health care workers to practice “conscientious objection” against the “aggression” aimed at the “human embryo.”

American Catholic Foundation seeks laws to protect freedom of conscience

The second of two declarations being prepared by the Christus Medicus Foundation advocates enacting federal “Health Care Right of Conscience” legislation to protect health care insurers and health care providers.


American Academy of Family Physicians President comments on obligations

Richard G. Roberts, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, is reported to have said that physicians do not have a “statutory, constitutional or ethical” duty to perform procedures to which they object, but that the medical profession has an obligation to help patients access necessary legal services. The remarks appear to distinguish between personal and corporate obligations.