For over two decades the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has been at the forefront of advancing and defending the right of free speech and conscientious objection when it comes to the sanctity of human life. In addition to our work with legislators and public policy makers in Washington and around the country, we have also represented dozens of individuals – women and men on the front lines of the pro-life cause – who have found themselves discriminated against because of their pro-life stands. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers – we’ve gone to court for them before judges and juries from Maine to Hawaii and most points in between.
It’s a battle that doesn’t end. As long as there’s a nurse agonizing over how she’s going to keep a roof over her kids’ heads if she refuses to be part of an abortion procedure, or a medical student wondering if he’s going to have to throw away years of hard work and eat a mountain of debt unless he goes along with life-ending “mandatory” training, we’ll be there.
One of our current cases involves Cynthia Isabell (“Cindy”), a nurse in South Bend, Indiana who was turned down for a faculty position at Indiana University South Bend. The position would have had her teaching nurses in the classroom and in a mother-baby clinical setting. It had absolutely nothing to do with abortion.
But, to Cindy’s shock, and the dismay of many others in the room, she was subjected to a veritable inquisition during her interview “about being pro-life.” The person doing the grilling? An Assistant Dean of Nursing who, over the span of three decades, was also an employee of the country’s biggest abortion provider: Planned Parenthood.
This same Assistant Dean had started off the interview by asking Cindy a question that sounded eerily similar to the topic of an internet blog article Cindy had published a few months before: “How a Formerly Pro-Choice Nursing Instructor Discusses Abortion with Her Students.” She proceeded to question Cindy – in the words of one of the members of the three-person search committee – “about being pro-life”. Sensing Cindy’s discomfort with what all (except the Planned Parenthood Assistant Dean) thought was an off-limits line of questioning, another committee member jumped in. She asked the Assistant Dean why she was questioning Cindy about abortion since the job she was applying for had nothing to do with abortion. The Assistant Dean had no answer.
The reaction of the search committee members to this grilling of Cindy was unanimous. It was “unfair to Cindy.” One member told a friend later that day that she had never felt that her own (pro-life) position on abortion could cost her her job at IUSB until she witnessed what had happened to Cindy. Still another committee member – who happens to be pro-choice – was so outraged by the Assistant Dean’s unfair attack on Cindy that she filed a complaint about it with IUSB’s Affirmative Action Office.
A few weeks later, Cindy learned that she did not get the job. The Assistant Dean told her it was due to her “lack of teaching experience.” This was obviously a lame pretext. Cindy, who holds a Masters in adult health nursing and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice with a certificate in nursing education, had 17 years of classroom and clinical teaching experience. This was much more than the successful applicant. Even worse, before her interview for the full-time position, IUSB had already asked Cindy to teach, on an interim basis, one of the courses the Assistant Dean now said she lacked the experience to teach.
And what about the one search committee member’s Affirmative Action Complaint? IUSB dismissed it on the grounds that the same hiring decision would have been made anyway. Think about that. Team A deliberately takes out the knees of Team B’s starting quarterback on the first play of the game and then goes on to win over a shook up Team B. In response to Team B’s protest, the league says, “well, Team A was a better team anyway, so what’s the big deal?” Really? You can’t rig the game and then try to defend the legitimacy of the rigged game’s outcome.
Or turn the tables. A pro-choice nurse writes a pro-choice article expressing her views and afterwards applies for teaching position at IUSB where the courses she’ll teach have nothing to do with abortion. At the start of her interview, an Assistant Dean asks her “about being pro-choice” and grills her to an extent that others in the room are appalled at the unfairness of it and one even files a discrimination complaint. Then it turns out that the Assistant Dean has, for 30 years, served as the Vice President of the local Right to Life group. No big deal? We would have made the same decision anyway? Anybody buying that one?
We’re not, and neither is Cindy Isabell. That’s why we’re taking IUSB to court. The First Amendment prohibits government agencies, like IUSB, and government agents, like the Assistant Dean, from retaliating against citizens for expressing their views, for “being” anything, including “being pro-life.”
In addition to the protection the First Amendment gives to Cindy’s pro-life stance, Indiana has a conscience law that is arguably even more direct: “[N]o hospital or other person shall discriminate against or discipline a person because of the person’s moral beliefs concerning abortion.”
We’re currently in court in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana on Cindy’s behalf. We’re facing a major deadline in August as IUSB tries to get Cindy’s case thrown out on baseless legal grounds. We can’t let that happen.
We intend to see that Cindy’s rights are vindicated, and that the wrongdoers are punished for this blatant retaliation against her for exercising her First Amendment rights. And for simply “being pro-life.”
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