D.C. Fire Dept. Fighting Allegations of Coerced Abortion

By Matt Pyeatt | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The Washington D.C. Fire Department is investigating claims that a department official suggested a female EMS employee have an abortion in order to keep her job.

Kenneth L. Lyons, president of the local union that represents EMS workers, said that a group of new employees were told they would be terminated if they became pregnant in their first year of employment at the agency.

Just after assignments were made to in-field units, "one of the females approached the interim chief of EMS operations, Samanthia Robinson, and informed her that she was, indeed, pregnant and she wanted to start a family," Lyons said.

"According to the young lady, [Robinson told her] that she had a choice to make and that choice will depend on whether or not you maintain your employment with this agency. She then went out and had an abortion," he said.

After having the procedure, the young lady requested time off to recuperate and was denied leave and forced back on duty, said Lyons.

"She was forced to return to the street and started to hemorrhage," he said.

Alan Etter, spokesman for the Washington D.C. fire department, said, "we are aware of a very serious allegation, the fire chief is involved personally in an investigation to find out exactly what happened, and if the allegation is true then the appropriate actions will be taken."

After further investigation by the local union, Lyons said that this may not have been the only case of a pressured abortion.

"We now find out, independently, there were three incidents [of abortion] to maintain their employment," he said.

Lyons also said that many of the employees are hesitant to talk with the union for fear of losing their jobs.

"They were told that if any of this got out to the public, they would be severely reprimanded to the degree of possibly being terminated because they were in their first year of employment," he said.

Lyons added that many employees were falsely informed that they did not have rights under the union because it was their first year with the agency.

Other findings by the local union insinuate that this policy of keeping women from becoming pregnant goes further.

"This unwritten policy is one that has existed over years... female firefighters now are saying they were under the impression, given their orientation, that this was the policy. We even have some females saying they withheld from having children for the first five years of employment because they were told this," Lyons said.

Even though the fire department does not have such a policy, he says upper management continued to adopt the unwritten rule.