Salem, OR–January 30, 2002–Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed suit yesterday on behalf of Janice Turner, a public health nurse who lost her job with the Marion County Health Department due to her deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, charges that Turner’s supervisor at the Women’s Clinic harassed and retaliated against her for her pro-life views and refused to accommodate her religious objections to discussing or promoting abortion procedures with her patients.
Turner, a public health nurse with the Health Department from 1990 until July 2001, had early on in her employment expressed her religious opposition to abortion and requested accommodation from having to discuss or promote abortion procedures with her patients.
According to Turner, her initial supervisor accommodated her religious beliefs and allowed her to refer those patients wanting to receive emergency contraception, a.k.a. “the morning after pill,” or information about abortion to another nurse.
As a result of Turner’s personal commitment to providing quality health care to those in need, she also worked as a Maternity Case Manager, making house calls to women undergoing high-risk pregnancies and educating them on how to have a healthy pregnancy. However, in 1995, a new supervisor was appointed to the Women’s Clinic who declared herself to be pro-choice and allegedly acted in a manner intolerant of other viewpoints.
According to Turner, this new supervisor stated her expectation that everyone on staff discuss emergency contraception, or “the morning after pill,” with patients as “a method of contraception that will prevent a pregnancy,” and discouraged the nurses from discussing it as a possible abortifacient. Turner claims that her supervisor continually reiterated her distaste for Turner’s pro-life views regarding emergency contraception and repeatedly told her that she “was not a complete nurse.” During Turner’s final evaluation, the supervisor informed her that budget cuts would soon be forthcoming. She then warned Turner that her position could be cut in the department budget, and if Turner wanted another position in the department, she would have to be willing to dispense emergency contraception. Shortly thereafter, Turner was notified that her position was to be cut.
Among the allegations detailed in the complaint filed by Institute attorneys are charges that Turner was discriminated against for her religious beliefs, a violation of Title VII, the Hill/Burton Conscience Act and Oregon’s conscience clause.
“It is unconscionable for anyone to force their beliefs on another person, especially forcing a pro-abortion message on a person who believes that life begins at conception,” stated John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “What makes it even worse is that this was being done by an employer who was fully aware that she is in control of that person’s livelihood.”
The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.
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