Standing Up for Conscience Rights

Sandra Mendoza Rojas was a pediatric nurse who had worked for the Winnegabo County Public Health Department in Illinois for 18 years. In 2015, her new supervisor, Dr. Sandra Martell, put in place a new policy that required all nurses refer patients for abortions and abortifacients, such as Plan B. When Ms. Mendoza Rojas communicated that her conscience would not allow her to refer for abortion or abortifacients, Dr. Martell gave her three options: comply, be demoted, or resign.

Ms. Mendoza Rojas chose to resign. She is now fighting for her right to practice as a nurse in full compliance with her conscience. She has filed a formal complaint with the U. S. Department of Health, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

At the time Ms. Mendoza Rojas was forced out of her job, Illinois had in place the Healthcare Rights of Conscience Act, which protected the consciences of medical workers and others from performing acts contrary to their conscience. In 2016, the Illinois legislature passed a law forcing medical professionals, including those who work at pro-life pregnancy centers, to refer for abortions and provide information on the “benefits” of abortion.

Noah Sterrett, lead counsel for the law team representing Ms. Mendoza Rojas, said, “Federal law prohibits government officials from discriminating against medical professionals who cannot in good conscience participate in abortion. … The government has no business forcing pro-life doctors and pregnancy care centers to operate as referral agents for the abortion industry. A law that targets medical professionals because of their pro-life views and right of conscience is unconstitutional and unethical.”

Ms. Mendoza Rojas is not the only victim of attempts to force nurses to participate in abortions. In 2009, Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo was assigned to assist in an abortion, despite previously having made her conscience clear and being assured by her supervisors that she would never be required to assist in an abortion. She was threatened with being charged with insubordination and patient abandonment, two charges that would end her career as a nurse. In 2011, Fe Vinoya was one of twelve nurses that won a suit against the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey after the hospital adopted a policy requiring nurses to assist in abortion, despite federal law and New Jersey state law that prohibited such policies. There have been other cases, as well.

Let’s be clear that these nurses were forced by their employers to make a choice between their consciences and their careers, even though both federal and state law supported their right to protect their consciences by not participating in abortions.

Doctors and nurses do not become mere tools of the state, much less of whatever institution they work for, by obtaining a license to practice medicine or nursing. Hospitals ought not to be able to demand that medical professionals remove their consciences and place them on a shelf outside the workplace door prior to clocking in, picking them up again only after they’ve finished their shifts and clocked out.

It is imperative that medical professionals, and everyone else, for that matter, be allowed to practice their trade without fear that their consciences, their most deeply held beliefs, will be placed on the chopping block when they go to work. Think about it: Do we really want the people who have our lives in their hands to be unthinking, unethical robots simply carrying out whatever order they’re given by those above them in authority?

Bless these brave nurses who stand up for what is right for their own sake and for all of us.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.











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