Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

No Equal Opportunities for Nurse With Pro-Life Views

Oregon, USA (2001)

The Rutherford Institute
4 February, 2002
Reproduced with permission

John W. Whitehead

According to a federal lawsuit filed by Janice, when the new supervisor-one intolerant of pro-life viewpoints-was assigned to the Women's Clinic, Janice's treatment on the job began to change. Indeed, not only were Janice's religious views no longer accommodated, she was also harassed.

Our nation continues to wage a war on terrorism around the world to protect and defend America's freedoms. At the same time, however, we must not forget those whose rights and freedoms are in jeopardy of being violated here at home. One of the latest casualties of an increasing intolerance for the expression of religious values and ideals is Janice Turner, a public health nurse from Marion County, Oregon.

Janice dealt with patients in need-single mothers, at-risk teenagers and others. As a result of her 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.

Although it wasn't easy, it was a job she loved. Reaching out to the high-risk women in her community with quality health care was important to Janice-a challenge that she enjoyed. It was also a way to share her knowledge, talents and faith with those most in need.

As a Christian who believes that life is precious-and begins at conception-Janice worked hard to provide expectant mothers with the best care possible, in addition to educating them about how to care for the miracle of life they had been given. And while she was willing, as part of her nursing duties, to present patients with their legal options, including abortion and emergency contraception, Janice simply did not feel comfortable referring them to abortion providers or distributing emergency contraception.

But after 10 years at the family planning clinic of the Marion County Health Department-years in which her religious views were respected and accommodated by her co-workers and supervisors-Janice Turner lost her job. Things began to change when a new supervisor-one who believed that a pro-life nurse, one who refuses to recommend or provide abortion as a means of birth control, is only doing half a job-was appointed to the Women's Clinic in Marion County, Oregon.

Although Janice's previous supervisor did not share her views about abortion, she did respect Janice's right to abstain from certain practices that interfered with her religious beliefs. As Janice said, "She trusted us to be professional and make certain that the patients received complete and correct information."

But then things took a drastic turn. According to a federal lawsuit filed by Janice, when the new supervisor-one intolerant of pro-life viewpoints-was assigned to the Women's Clinic, Janice's treatment on the job began to change. Indeed, not only were Janice's religious views no longer accommodated, she was also harassed. At this time, emergency contraception, otherwise known as the "morning after pill," was being increasingly discussed and focused upon. And Janice's new supervisor began encouraging her staff to promote the morning after pill as "a method of contraception that will prevent a pregnancy."

But to Janice, this was not much different than an abortion. And in her lawsuit, Janice alleges that her supervisor subjected her to harassment because of her religious beliefs and her refusal to distribute emergency contraception to patients. Her supervisor was particularly upset that Janice was educating her patients-many of whom came from a Catholic background with the belief that life begins at conception-about how emergency contraception works, namely, its "abortifacient" qualities.

In the months before Janice lost her job, her supervisor continually reiterated her distaste for Janice's pro-life views regarding emergency contraception and repeatedly told her that she "was not a complete nurse." During Janice's final evaluation, the supervisor informed her that budget cuts would soon be forthcoming. She then warned Janice that her position could be cut and that if she wanted another position in the department, she would have to be willing to dispense emergency contraception. Shortly thereafter, Janice was notified that her position was being cut-and she would be laid off.

Yet at the time of the so-called "lay-off," the family planning clinic was advertising for a position with the same job requirements as those held by Janice-the only exception being that the description now included the distribution of emergency contraception as an explicit job requirement.

So Janice Turner's lawsuit is asking that the Marion County Health Department cease its discriminatory practices and that the department institute a policy ensuring that religious beliefs be accommodated and respected.

After all, America was founded on the concept that life is sacrosanct and religious beliefs deserve specific protection, a concept that is enshrined in our First Amendment. As such, our Constitution is intended to protect people such as Janice Turner-those who have strong beliefs and are willing to sacrifice their livelihood to protect them. Whether they work in a hospital or a homeless shelter, at a grocery store or in a schoolhouse, all Americans have a constitutional right to have their religious beliefs respected and accommodated in the workplace. Without this, there is no true equality and freedom in the workplace.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute reached a mutually agreeable resolution in Feb. 2003 with the Marion County Health Department on behalf of Janice Turner. As part of the settlement agreement, a new policy was enacted preventing discrimination of employees based upon religious or moral beliefs regarding abortion or contraception and requiring the health department to accommodate those beliefs.