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ACLJ Pleased With Resolution of Case of Philadelphia Pediatrician


Francis J. Manion

August 14, 2015

3 min read

Free Speech



The American Center for Law and Justice is pleased to announce the settlement of the case of Doris Fernandes vs. The City of Philadelphia, et al. Dr. Fernandes, a Catholic pediatrician who objected to participating in certain reproductive health services, particularly contraception, emergency contraception, and making referrals for them, was terminated by the City of Philadelphia (“the City”) back in 2013. Fernandes sued, claiming religious discrimination under Title VII, the First Amendment, and various state laws. 

Under the terms of the settlement, the City agrees to adopt a policy permitting any of its medical providers who have religious objections to participating in certain forms of care to redirect patients - short of formal referral - to other appropriate sources. This is consistent with the position endorsed by the American Medical Association in its policy statement, Physician Exercise of Conscience: “When a deeply held, well-considered personal belief leads a physician also to decline to refer, the physician should offer impartial guidance to patients about how to inform themselves regarding access to desired services.”

This resolution is a positive outcome for all involved. It respects to the fullest extent possible the religious liberty of doctors and other medical providers who have religious objections to certain forms of medical care. In a religiously diverse society, highly qualified practitioners may, from time to time, face situations in which their beliefs conflict with requested services. The resolution of this case demonstrates that such practitioners' beliefs can be accommodated without compromising overall medical care.

It is fitting that this important step forward in the struggle to secure protection of the conscience rights of medical providers should take place in Philadelphia.  The City’s founder, William Penn, called his colony a “Holy Experiment,” a society in which freedom of religious belief and practice would serve to enhance human flourishing. That freedom, of course, was embodied by the First Congress (in Philadelphia) in the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and remains what Philadelphia’s current archbishop, Charles Chaput, has called “a fundamental natural right and first among our civil liberties.” And while disputes about the appropriate limits of the right to exercise one’s religion will inevitably arise – particularly in the complex realm of medical practice – the resolution of the case of Dr. Fernandes shows that, when both sides approach the issues with good faith and mutual respect, solutions can be found that ensure protection of the rights and interests of all.

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