- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

Three women in the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department say they had abortions because they were threatened with termination, in addition to a rookie who terminated her pregnancy out of fear, a medic union official said yesterday.
The three women said they were told as rookies that they could not become pregnant and take leave, and they must have an abortion if they wanted to stay employed, medic union leader Kenneth Lyons said at a news conference.
"This is disgusting to me … that this could happen in this day and age, in an agency that vows first and foremost to do no harm," said Mr. Lyons, chairman of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents medics and emergency medical technicians.
The District's top public safety official yesterday said Fire Chief Ronnie Few "is personally involved" in an internal investigation in the matter and Mayor Anthony A. Williams "made it clear he wanted this investigated and taken very seriously."
"The mayor [who is Catholic] is personally concerned that this be investigated fully," said Margret Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice. "We take it very, very seriously."
The Washington Times first reported yesterday that a 21-year-old rookie said she had an abortion this summer after a supervisor told her she could not be pregnant and keep her job because she was on probation.
Mr. Lyons and five fire department sources identified the supervisor as Samanthia Robinson, interim assistant chief of operations for EMS.
The threat of termination and Ms. Robinson's suggestion so frightened the woman that she ended her pregnancy, even though she is a Roman Catholic, said Mr. Lyons and the sources, including one who has spoken to her about the problem.
Catholic belief holds that abortion is the killing of innocent life, a grave sin.
Ms. Kellems said the D.C. Office of Human Rights has been notified of the situation. Federal and city law prohibit discrimination against pregnant women.
"This is not going to be a perfunctory examination," she said. "All allegations will be taken seriously and fully investigated."
Ms. Kellems said she was not aware that other women in the fire department said they too had abortions for fear of losing their jobs after they were threatened. She said any other charges "would be part of an investigation."
"If there is any indication there is a larger problem than an individual circumstance, we will look into that … until we believe we've addressed the entire issue," Ms. Kellems said.
She refused to provide details of the investigation, such as who was conducting it, when it would be complete or whether Ms. Robinson had been suspended.
"Ms. Robinson does not wish to speak to you," fire department spokeswoman Denise Reed told The Times yesterday.
Asked if officials would administer a polygraph to Ms. Robinson, Ms. Kellems said, "I can't get into what may or may not be the strategies and investigative tools."
Mr. Lyons said the rookie medicalworker and others fear reprisalsfrom supervisors and stigma from publicity. He said the internal investigation will "victimize them twice."
The rookie is trying to avoid publicity because she is distraught and the abortion has caused a rift with her family, department sources said."The department has more than enough information to investigate this," Mr. Lyons said, adding that the department should change its policy about pregnancy or hold the supervisor accountable for her comments.
Ms. Kellems said she has not read the fire department's policies on pregnancy and leave, "but I cannot imagine" that rookies are not allowed to be pregnant.
"That would be intolerable," she said. "If you walk around the fire department, there are lots of pregnant women there."
Ms. Robinson told a class of about 10 rookie medic workers that they could not become pregnant and were not entitled to medical leave if they did, Mr. Lyons and department sources said.
Seven of those rookies have corroborated the account of Ms. Robinson's comments, said Mr. Lyons.
Louis Malone, the union's attorney, said his firm was examining what legal recourse to take for the woman who had the abortion and others.


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