- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

Louisiana state health officials have reversed themselves and have agreed to accommodate a public-health nurse who was threatened with job termination for refusing to dispense pregnancy-ending "morning after" pills because of religious objections.
The reversal was announced by Madeline W. McAndrew, assistant secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, in a letter that was sent to the nurse, Cynthia Day of Marrero, La.
The letter from the senior health official, dated Oct. 25, was written just days after attorneys for Ms. Day filed formal complaints on her behalf, charging employment discrimination on the basis of her religious beliefs. The complaints were filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights. The case attracted extensive local and national press coverage.
In the letter to Ms. Day, Ms. McAndrew said the health department would rescind its threat to dismiss or suspend her "and will accommodate your request on religious and moral grounds."
Ms. McAndrew apologized "for the ordeal that you have gone through." She also said Ms. Day would be able to select a new job from a "listing of reassignment opportunities that the [state] Office of Public Health can make available to you for future permanent duty assignments."
Ms. Day has been employed as a nurse in a state clinic in New Orleans that provides family-planning services four days a week.
Ms. Day, who has worked for the state health department for nearly a decade, did not object to providing women with contraceptives. But she refused to distribute "emergency contraceptives," or morning-after pills, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sexual relations.
Ms. Day repeatedly told supervisors she believes life begins at fertilization, and that she views morning-after pills as an abortifacient because they prevent a fertilized egg from growing.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a Virginia-based public-interest law firm that filed Ms. Day's complaint, said in the filing that state health officials criticized her religious beliefs and threatened to fire her in a Sept. 9 letter. In that letter officials also said reassignment was "not an option."
On Oct. 22 the nurse was sent a "disciplinary letter" by health authorities, which called for a five-day suspension without pay.
When the complaint against the state health department was filed, Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel for the center, questioned why officials couldn't find another nurse to distribute the emergency contraceptives. Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the health department, countered that "with the nursing shortage, it's very difficult if not impossible to accommodate" Ms. Day.
But the health department soon determined that it could accommodate her. "We're delighted that the religious beliefs of our client will now be accommodated in the workplace," Mr. Roth said.
He added, "Unfortunately, it took formal action on our behalf and publicity about the case before the state agreed to do what it should have done all along: stop threatening and criticizing our client, and permit her to work without violating her religious beliefs."

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