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County Must Pay Nurse Fired for Refusal to Dispense Emergency Contraception

An eight-member federal jury ruled last week in favor of a Christian nurse who filed suit in December 2000 against Riverside County, California alleging that her employer, the Riverside Neighborhood Health Center, violated her constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of religion in firing her for refusing to dispense emergency contraception (EC) to patients. The verdict ordered Riverside County to pay $19,000 in back pay and over $28,000 for emotional distress to Michelle Diaz. Ken Cohen, Director of the Riverside County Health Services Agency, argued “What we didn’t want to see was having our staff impose their view, from a religious perspectiveÉI think they have to put the patients’ needs ahead of theirs.” According to the Associated Press, the County intends to ask US District Judge Virginia A. Phillips to set the verdict aside.

Though the right wing has opposed the use of EC, the pills can prevent unintended pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of intercourse. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, there are 3 million unintended pregnancies in the US each year. EC has the potential to cut the number of unintended pregnancies in half and prevent as many as 800,000 abortions each year.

The Feminist Majority Foundation has launched a nationwide campaign to make EC available over-the-counter throughout the US and to mainstream access to the pills on college campuses. To learn more, visit www.PrescribeChoice.org.

Sources:

Associated Press, 5/30/02; Sacramento Bee, 6/21/99; Feminist Majority Foundation

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