Rojas v. Martell
Description: The Winnebago County Health Department in Illinois wrongfully forced pediatric nurse Sandra Rojas out of her job for declining to assist with or refer for abortion or abortifacient contraceptives. The 17th Judicial Circuit Court ruled in favor of Rojas, who sought protection under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, bringing a favorable result to her lawsuit initially filed in 2016 against the Winnebago County Health Department.
Violating nurse’s freedoms costs Illinois county $370K
ROCKFORD, Ill. – An Illinois trial court ruled Wednesday that Winnebago County must pay more than $370,000 to the attorneys of a pediatric nurse after the government violated her legally protected freedoms. Winnebago County forced Sandra Rojas out of a job because she declined to refer women for abortions or provide abortifacient contraceptives—actions that violated Rojas’ religious beliefs and conscience.
In November 2021, the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Winnebago County ruled in favor of Rojas, who sought protection under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. Rojas worked as a pediatric nurse for the department for 18 years before they enacted a new requirement forcing nurses to undergo training on how to refer women to abortion facilities and help them access abortifacient contraceptives.
“Medical professionals should never be forced to engage in or promote activities that violate their beliefs or convictions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “Sandra served as a nurse according to her conscience and religion—a right for medical providers that is protected under Illinois and federal law. The court’s fee award sends a clear message that health care workers are free to practice medicine in a manner consistent with their conscience and religious beliefs, and there will be a steep penalty if the government fails to respect that legally protected freedom.”
In Rojas v. Martell, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys served as co-counsel for Rojas along with lead counsel Noel Sterett of Dalton & Tomich and Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker, two of more than 3,500 attorneys allied with ADF.
“Health care professionals should not be required to violate their conscience to keep their jobs,” said Sterett. “We hope the outcome of this case will encourage other public and private health care employers to respect their employees’ rights of conscience.”
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Life Team working to defend pro-life laws and speech and protect medical rights of conscience. He has litigated cases in the areas of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Theriot is admitted to the bar in eight states, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous other federal courts of appeal and district courts. Theriot received his law degree from Vanderbilt University and has been litigating First Amendment issues since 1993.