A pro-life Illinois nurse who was fired after refusing to refer mothers for abortions won her case in court this week and has been awarded $374,000 in damages and attorney fees.
A local court in Illinois ruled that Sandra Mendoza Rojas, of Rockford, should not have been fired from the Winnebago County Health Clinic for living out her pro-life beliefs.
Rojas worked as a pediatric nurse for 18 years before she was fired in 2015, according to the report. She said she refused to comply with a new requirement that nurses be trained to help women obtain abortion drugs and refer women to abortion facilities.
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The Illinois nurse is a devout Catholic who believes unborn babies deserve a right to life.
“Nursing is more than just a job, it is a noble calling to protect life and do no harm,” she said previously. “There is something terribly wrong when you are forced out of your job on account of your commitment to protect life.”
An Illinois trial court ruled Wednesday that Winnebago County must pay more than $374,000 in attorney’s fees for requiring a Christian nurse to provide abortion referrals and contraception.
Circuit Court Judge Eugene Doherty issued an attorney fee award of $374,104.
“The Health Department improperly discriminated against (Rojas) by refusing to accommodate her objections of conscience in her existing job at the clinic,” the court wrote in its ruling. “The Court has concluded that the Health Department could have reasonably accommodated (Rojas’) objections without removing her from her job.”
Sterett is hopeful this case will send a clear warning to employers about the importance of honoring someone’s religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom served as co-counsel in the case alongside Noel Sterett of Dalton & Tomich and Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker.
“Healthcare professionals should not be required to violate their conscience to keep their jobs. Thankfully, Illinois has laws that protect a health care professional’s right to not participate in the provision of medical services which violate their conscience,” Sterett said.
“Nurse Rojas’s case set significant precedent and now stands as a seminal case under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act,” Sterett stated. “The Court’s fee award will hopefully encourage other public and private health care employers to respect their employees’ rights of conscience.”
He added, “No American should be forced to refer for abortions or assist patients in accessing abortifacients—least of all medical workers who entered the profession to follow their faith and save lives, not take them. The court’s decision is a win for all health care professionals throughout Illinois. Healthcare professionals should not be required to violate their conscience to keep their jobs.”
“Medical professionals should never be forced to engage in or promote activities that violate their beliefs or convictions,” said ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves. “Sandra found her calling serving as a pediatric nurse, helping children overcome health obstacles and lead fulfilling lives. She chose to practice medicine according to her conscience and religion—a right for medical providers that is protected under Illinois and federal law—yet the Winnebago County health department wrongfully forced her out of a job when she declined to participate in abortion-related services. The court’s ruling protects Sandra’s freedom to practice medicine and care for her young patients in a manner consistent with her conscience and religious beliefs.”
In a lawsuit, Rojas claimed Winnebago County Health Department director Dr. Sandra Martell violated the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.
Her case is one of a growing number of complaints by medical professionals about religious freedom and conscience violations. Cathy DeCarlo, an operating room nurse from New York, is another.
“I’ll never forget that day as I watched in horror as the doctor dismembered and removed the baby’s bloody limbs and I had to account for all the pieces,” DeCarlo said previously, sobbing at the memory. “I still have nightmares about that day.”
In August, President Joe Biden’s administration received sharp criticism from pro-life and religious leaders after it dropped a lawsuit defending another pro-life nurse from Vermont who was forced to participate in an abortion. The nurse said other medical workers at the University of Vermont Medical Center tricked her into it, telling her that she would be helping with a miscarriage.
Since the 1970s, it has been illegal for public authorities to force individuals or entities to perform or assist in the abortion process. The Church Amendment, federal law enacted in the 1970s after the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court rulings, prohibits hospitals funded by the Public Health Service Act from discriminating against doctors and nurses who refuse to participate in abortion. The Church Amendment protects abortion-related conscience rights of both individuals and institutions.
However, pro-life lawmakers have warned that the law is not being enforced, and nurses like Rojas and DeCarlo have had their livelihoods threatened for refusing to help end unborn babies’ lives in abortions.