- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

A nurse employed by the state of Louisiana has been threatened with job termination for refusing to dispense pregnancy-ending medications because of religious convictions.
"The state must accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of our client," Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel for the Virginia-based America Center for Law and Justice, said regarding Cynthia Day of Marrero, La.
This week, the ACLJ filed formal complaints on behalf of Ms. Day with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Louisiana Commission of Human Rights. The ACLJ is a public interest law firm that specializes in representing people discriminated against because of their religious and pro-life beliefs.
The complaints charge that Ms. Day's employer of nearly a decade the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is discriminating against her because her religious beliefs preclude her from distributing so-called emergency contraceptives, also known as "morning-after" pills.
"Our client just wants to do her job without violating her religious beliefs," Mr. Roth said. "Instead of accommodating the employee, health department officials have decided to criticize her and threaten her with job termination.
"We will do whatever it takes to protect the conscience rights of our client," he added.
Ms. Day repeatedly told her supervisors she could not dispense pills that end pregnancies to patients, according to the complaints filed by ACLJ. She says she believes human life begins at fertilization, is sacred and must not be harmed in any way.
Mr. Roth, in a telephone interview yesterday, said Louisiana health officials sent Ms. Day a threatening letter about the conflict on Sept. 9.
"They told her to respond in five days or seek other employment," he said. "They also said then that reassignment is not an option."
He said after the Louisiana health department learned Ms. Day would not distribute morning-after pills, "she got put in a job where she saw more women who were likely to want" those medications, making it more likely she would have to distribute the drugs, Mr. Roth added.
Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said yesterday he knows nothing about Ms. Day's reported job transfer.
"She has not been terminated, nor has she been disciplined. We'd like to find a way to accommodate her but with the nursing shortage, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate her," said Mr. Johannessen in regard to her wishes not to distribute the drugs.
Ms. Day is a public health nurse, he emphasized, who works in a state-run clinic in New Orleans. "The clinic where she works provides family planning services four out of five days a week," he said, and only in the past year has the clinic started making morning-after pills available.
Mr. Johannessen noted that never in Ms. Day's tenure did she object to dispensing regular contraceptives.
Though the clinic "would like to resolve this," Mr. Johannessen said there are currently no openings for nursing jobs in which Ms. Day would not have to dispense the type of morning-after medication she opposes. "It's my understanding that an emergency contraceptive keeps an embryo from attaching to the uterus," he said.
While insisting Ms. Day has not been disciplined for her failure to dispense emergency contraceptives, Mr. Johannessen said she was sent a "disciplinary letter" on Oct. 22. He did not elaborate.
Mr. Roth said the letter called for a "five-day suspension without pay."
He stressed that the complaints to the EEOC and the Louisiana Human Rights Commission are not the only actions the ACLJ is contemplating on Ms. Day's behalf. He said the group also is seriously considering filing a lawsuit in federal court.
In the end, Mr. Roth says he is optimistic about getting relief for Ms. Day.
He points to a case the ACLJ won in Riverside County, Calif., involving another nurse who refused to dispense morning-after pills and was fired. A federal jury that heard that case found that the county had violated the former nurse's First Amendment rights of free speech and religion. It awarded damages totaling $100,000.

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