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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Doctor Opposed to Birth Control Says She Was Fired

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The Department of Public Health fired a Catholic physician who refused to administer birth control to adolescents, she claims in court.

Dr. Doris Fernandes sued the city and her former supervisors in federal court in Philadelphia. Prior to her termination in November 2013, she had worked as a pediatrician for 35 years at a city-run clinic in West Philadelphia.

Fernandes says beginning in 2013, the city rolled out a "new effort ... to have all of its pediatricians prescribe birth control of all kinds [sic] including such types as Depo-Provera injections and the 'morning-after pill.'"

In the event that a patient requested birth control, the complaint says, Fernandes "would simply reply 'I don't do that,' at which time the patient could go back to the receptionist to be reassigned to the other physician on duty.

In the absence of the other physician, patients would have access to the city-run family planning unit and/or general medical office in the same building, the doctor says.

She also says that as the new program was being initiated, she wrote a letter to her supervisor, Dr. Victor Ikokidi, informing him of her religious restrictions, and that she received no response. When she brought up the restriction again, she says she was called into a meeting and fired.

Fernandes claims violations of both federal and state law, including the Pennsylvania Abortion Act, which states that "Except for a facility devoted exclusively to the performance of abortions, no medical personnel ... shall be required against his or her conscience to aid, abet or facilitate performance of an abortion or of an abortifacient."

The lawsuit comes four months after the Supreme Court's June decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the high court held that privately owned companies are not required to provide birth control to their employees as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. In a 5-4 majority, the Court agreed with Hobby Lobby's interpretation of the morning-after pill as an abortifacient rather than a contraceptive.

Fernandes' complaint is the first such case filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania since the Hobby Lobby ruling.

She seeks unspecified monetary damages, including punitive damages, declaratory relief and attorneys' fees.

Fernandes is represented by Francis Manion of the American Center for Law & Justice.

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