Pro-life nurse reaches settlement agreement with Oregon health department over request for religious accommodation, abortion

Rutherford Institute Attorneys, Health Department Agree on Resolution to Implement New Policies

Salem, Ore.— Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have reached a mutually agreeable resolution with the Marion County Health Department on behalf of Janice Turner, a public health nurse who lost her job with the health department due to her deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception. The settlement agreement provides for the enactment of two new policies.  The first policy guarantees that all clients who receive emergency contraception, a.k.a. “the morning after pill,” will be informed in easily understandable terms that it functions by preventing the implantation of a fertilized ovum if conception has already occurred. The second policy, a general statement of employees’ rights to religious belief and expression within the workplace, prevents discrimination based upon religious or moral beliefs regarding abortion or contraception and requires the health department to accommodate those beliefs.  Patterned after existing Conscience Clause legislation, this policy ensures that employees who refuse to accept job duties that contradict their religious or moral beliefs regarding abortion or contraception can do so without fear of being fired, demoted, transferred or disciplined.

Turner, who worked for the Health Department from 1990 until July 2001, had early on in her employment expressed her religious opposition to abortion and requested accommodation from having to discuss or promote abortion procedures with her patients. According to Turner, her initial supervisor accommodated her religious beliefs and allowed her to refer those patients wanting to receive emergency contraception or information about abortion to another nurse. However, in 1995, a new supervisor was appointed to the Women’s Clinic who declared herself to be pro-choice and allegedly acted in a manner intolerant of other viewpoints. According to Turner, this new supervisor stated her expectation that everyone on staff discuss emergency contraception with patients as “a method of contraception that will prevent a pregnancy” and discouraged the nurses from referencing it as a possible abortifacient.  Turner claims that her supervisor continually reiterated her distaste for Turner’s pro-life views regarding emergency contraception and repeatedly told her that she “was not a complete nurse.”  During Turner’s final evaluation, the supervisor warned Turner that her position could be cut in the department budget, and if Turner wanted another position in the department, she would have to be willing to dispense emergency contraception. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed a complaint in Janice Turner’s behalf last year in U.S. District Court.

“This is a timely issue which brings to light the importance of protecting health care workers’ rights, especially those who have sincerely held religious beliefs regarding abortion,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.  “It is also heartening to see that women, some of whom may have religious beliefs against taking an abortifacient, will be given complete information regarding the effect of the morning-after pill on a possibly fertilized ovum and its medical implications.”

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

Nisha N. Mohammed Ph: (434) 978-3888, ext. 604;
Pager: 800-946-4646, Pin #: 1478257
Email: Nisha N. Mohammed