Pediatric nurse Sandra Rojas had been working in the Winnebago County Health Department for 18 years when she and other nurses were required to undergo training on abortion referrals and abortifacient contraceptives.

Because she was a devout Christian nurse, she objected to the training, claiming that her faith prevented her from assisting in abortion services. But Rojas' employer said that the training and the abortion-related services were required in her position, the Christian Headlines reported.

The Christian nurse then resigned from her position and filed a case against the county, claiming that it violated her freedom of religion and freedom of conscience rights.

Last year, Judge Eugene G. Doherty of the 17th Judicial Circuit ruled in favor of the Christian nurse and argued that the Winnebago County Health Department "improperly discriminated" against Rojas "by refusing to accommodate her objections of conscience." The judge ruled that the department had violated the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

On Wednesday, Judge Doherty ordered the county to pay the Christian nurse forced to perform abortion up to $374,104 in attorney's fees. Rojas was co-counseled by Alliance Defending Freedom and Noel Sterett of Dalton & Tomich and Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker.

"Medical professionals should never be forced to engage in or promote activities that violate their beliefs or convictions," ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot said. "Sandra served as a nurse according to her conscience and religion - a right for medical providers that is protected under Illinois and federal law."

Theriot remarked that the court's decision to order the county to pay the Christian nurse forced to perform abortion is a "clear message" that healthcare professionals are "free to practice medicine in a manner consistent with their conscience and religious beliefs" and that there is a "steep penalty" for the government in the event it "fails to respect that legally protected freedom."

In an October 25 memorandum, Judge Doherty wrote that the Christian nurse "had the right to have her objections of conscience respected; the Health Department had the right to run its clinics and provide the service it was obligated to provide," the Religion News Network reported. He argued that the interests of both parties could have been accommodated, highlighting how for several weeks, the department had been able to successfully accommodate Rojas while still carrying out its goals.

"The Court has concluded that the Health Department could have reasonably accommodated Plaintiff's objections without removing her from her job," the judge ruled.

At the time, the Christian nurse was awarded $2,500 in damages. The judge decided that since Rojas turned down the nursing home job, she had "failed to mitigate her damages," limiting the damages she could be awarded, but was hopeful she could be awarded legal fees, which is what happened this week.

"The court's decision is a win for all health care professionals throughout Illinois," Sterett said. "Health care professionals should not be forced to violate their conscience to keep their jobs."