In January we filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of our client Sandra (Mendoza) Rojas, an experienced pediatric nurse who worked for the county for eighteen years. In 2017, she was unlawfully discriminated against and ultimately terminated by the Winnebago County Health Department for her beliefs about the dignity of life and inability to participate in an abortion or provide abortion-related services. Federal law prohibits health departments that receive federal funding from discriminating against medical professionals who have conscientious objections to performing or participating in abortion-related services.

In 2015, Rojas lost her job when the county’s new administrator decided to merge the Women’s Health unit with pediatrics. They informed Rojas that she could no longer work in the health department clinics if she was unwilling to participate in the provision of abortion-related services. Since Rojas could not abandon her convictions and violate her conscience, she was terminated from her longtime career serving the most vulnerable.

“Federal law prohibits government officials from discriminating against medical professionals who cannot in good conscience participate in abortion,” said lead counsel Noel Sterett. “Those that compel pro-life doctors and nurses to act contrary to their conscience should not qualify for federal funds. We have filed this complaint to inform the HHS of what is happening so that it can take action.”

“Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to perform or assist in abortion procedures,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Denise Harle. “It’s illegal, unethical, and a violation of Rojas’ rights of conscience as a devout Catholic to require her to participate in the taking of an innocent life. An individual’s conscience and commitment to the Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm’ is often what draws health care workers into the medical field. We’re hopeful that the HHS will quickly resolve this injustice.”

In addition to the complaint filed with the Department of Health and Human Services, Rojas has a case pending against the county for violating Illinois’ Healthcare Right of Conscience Act. The Chicago law firm of Mauck & Baker is representing Rojas in both matters, and Alliance Defending Freedom is co-counsel.

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