Pro-Life Nurse-Midwife Sues Tampa Family Health Centers for Not Hiring Her after She Said She Wouldn’t Prescribe “Hormonal” Contraception

birthcontrolpillsBy Elaine Magliaro

In an article that she wrote for Slate titled Pro-Life Nurse-Midwife Who Won’t Prescribe the Pill Sues Family Planning Center for Not Hiring Her, Andrea Marcotte poses the following question:

Is “religious freedom” about being free to practice your faith, or just a generic cover story for any and all attempts to try to foist your beliefs on others?

Marcotte said that in “this era of Hobby Lobby vs. Burwell, it’s understandable that many on the right have decided it’s the latter and are eager to start testing the limits of how much leverage the expansive new definition of ‘religious freedom’ gives them to meddle with the private contraception choices of others.”

The nurse-midwife who is the subject of Marcotte’s article is Sara Hellwege from Tampa, Florida. She is a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Hellwege applied for a job “at a family health center where prescribing people birth control is a job requirement.” According to a number of reports, Hellewege “informed her potential employers that she would not be prescribing any hormonal contraception.” When she wasn’t interviewed or hired for the job by the Tampa Family Health Centers because of her stated refusal to prescribe hormonal contraception, she decided to sue the clinic. The Christian right organization Alliance Defending Freedom is said to be handling her case.

According to Katie McDonough (Salon), Hellwege’s lawsuit alleges that she was “told she could not apply for the positions of certified nurse-midwife by Tampa Family Health Centers […] explicitly based on her religious beliefs and moral convictions in opposition to prescribing certain drugs that she believes can cause the death of a human embryo.”

Imagine applying for a job and informing your potential employer that you would refuse to perform one of the job requirements…and then suing because you didn’t get the position?!


Now I’m not the hiring director at this medical center, but if I were, I would question the willingness of a woman with self-described moral objections to contraception to “counsel” others in an unbiased and medically accurate manner about contraception. Particularly when this woman’s view — sincerely held though it may be — is that birth control “causes the death of a human embryo.” (Even putting aside the language, this is not how birth control works. There’s nothing up for debate about that.) What would medical counseling from this woman look like? I’m going to wager that it wouldn’t look so great. Would she “counsel” patients who want a prescription for birth-control pills that she viewed this choice as a moral aberration? Would she “counsel” patients who want an IUD that she believed such a device amounted to murder?

Erin Gloria Ryan (Jezebel) poses some excellent questions at the end of her Jezebel article titled Nurse Who Won’t Prescribe Birth Control Sues Clinic For Not Hiring Her:

But if corporations are allowed to have “religious faith” that justifies discriminating against women who use contraception, then why wouldn’t they be allowed the same luxury in dismissing employees who, in their sincerely held belief, actively seek to harm women? It seems pretty baldly inconsistent for folks who sided with bosses in the Hobby Lobby case to suddenly come down hard against bosses when the tables are turned. Do business owners have the right to operate only in accordance with Christian morality? Do beliefs only count if they police sexuality? Do bosses have a right to “conscientiously object” to certain employee behaviors or don’t they?

Andrea Marcotte:

Win or lose, Hellwege’s case provides insight in how the war on contraception is shaping up. Direct assaults through legislation are going to be a much harder sell with contraception than abortion, so instead we’re getting the argument that someone else’s “religious freedom”—your boss, your nurse—entitles them to interfere with your ability to get contraception. Family planning centers are one place that women have long been able to trust will provide them contraception access without unnecessary hassle, and now the Christian right is trying to take even that away.

Methinks that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was correct when she wrote the following in her dissent in the Hobby Lobby ruling: “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”



Nurse won’t prescribe birth control, sues because she didn’t get a job that requires prescribing birth control: A Florida nurse won’t do a job as required, but still wants the job. Now she’s alleging religious discrimination (Salon)

Nurse Who Won’t Prescribe Birth Control Sues Clinic For Not Hiring Her (Jezebel)

“Pro-life” nurse/mid-wife sues because family planning clinic won’t hire her (Daily Kos)

Pro-Life Nurse-Midwife Who Won’t Prescribe the Pill Sues Family Planning Center for Not Hiring Her (Slate)


This entry was posted in Conservatives, Courts, Health Care, Pharmaceuticals, Politics, Religion, Reproductive Rights, SCOTUS, United States and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Pro-Life Nurse-Midwife Sues Tampa Family Health Centers for Not Hiring Her after She Said She Wouldn’t Prescribe “Hormonal” Contraception

  1. James Knauer says:

    “and are eager to start testing the limits of how much leverage the expansive new definition of ‘religious freedom’ gives them to meddle with the private contraception choices of others.”

    Thus is the life-path of the busy-body, in which we use “religious beliefs” to practice the rank exclusion of others because nothing else works nearly as well. In this case, as in all attacks such as this, it’s the exclusion of the person who actually holds the rights.

  2. An employer cannot ask about a job applicant’s religion; however, when the applicant announces he or she will not provide services essential to the conduct of the business, that puts it over the line. An employer is expected to make reasonable accommodations, but if the employee refuses to do the job they were hired for, then it is all over.

  3. Elaine M. says:

    Oro Lee,

    Thanks so much for posting that video. I love Roy Zimmerman!


  4. blouise says:

    These people just keep turning back the clock … we call it intelligence savings time.

    Apply for a job that you tell them you won’t do then sue when you aren’t hired to do the job you refused to do. Isn’t that some kind of extortion? “I don’t intend to work but you have to pay me so much a week or else I’ll sue.” This isn’t political … it’s criminal.

    Look yous, my cousin, Blouise here, she’s 69 years old and wants to be a pole dancer. Shad-up punk and listen! She can’t use a pole and doesn’t move all that good but … she’s my cousin. ya know … so, here’s how it’s goin’down. She gets a nice costume and comes in .. sits at the bar, maybe does a slow slide with her walker a couple of times, then you give her a paycheck and she goes back to the Home and tells all her old lady friends she’s a bonofeedie pole dancer. She’s happy and I’m happy ’cause she’s off my back and, listen up, punk, you’re happy ’cause your bidness isn’t burnt to the ground … ya hear what I’m sayin’ … punk?

  5. Elaine M. says:

    Freedom isn’t forcing religion on others: Column
    Hobby Lobby upended our tradition of religious freedom by creating a hierarchy of religions.
    By Andrea Marcotte

    Now that the Supreme Court has opened the door to the idea that some religions get more “freedom” than others — including the freedom to restrict someone else’s religious freedom — there is going to be an alarming haggling over rights that previously had been set.

    When you start arguing that sometimes one person’s religious freedom interferes with another person’s right to make their personal choices in consultation with their own private beliefs there are going to be problems.

    Unfortunately, the Christian right seems to think the answer is whoever is more Christian and/or conservative wins. Take, for instance, the question of health care service. Under the “mind your own business” model of religious freedom, health care providers who may object to things like vaccinations or contraception should be content to simply avoid them themselves while not trying to foist these beliefs on patients. But now a growing crop of fundamentalists are demanding that the religious freedom of patients to make their own decisions about health care should be curtailed, allowing providers to push their own agenda on them.

    Sara Hellwege, a nurse-midwife in Tampa, Florida, is suing the Tampa Family Health Centers, because they did not give her a job she feels entitled to. Hellwege claims she is a victim of religious discrimination, saying TFHC didn’t hire her because of her religious objections to contraception. But that is simply untrue.

    TFHC is not demanding that Hellwege start using contraception or to start believing differently in her own private life. No, they refused to hire her because she broadcast her eagerness to use this position to foist her own religious views on unsuspecting patients, and to deprive them of their religious freedom to make their own choices by refusing to prescribe contraception for them.

    Hellwege is hardly the first health care professional to claim that their religious freedom depends on depriving patients of their own religious freedom. As the National Women’s Law Center demonstrated in 2012, there’s a semi-coordinated campaign across the country of Christian pharmacists exploiting the power they have to deny women access to contraception. NWLC chronicled 24 states where women had gone to the pharmacy in an attempt to get contraception, only to have their basic right to make their own personal health care choices thwarted by a pharmacist who believed his religious beliefs trump the patient’s. The problem has grown so serious that Walgreens put out an official statement in 2013 making it clear that pharmacists who refuse to sell contraception are violating company policy.

    The idea that your rights stop where my nose begins is under a continuous assault by the religious right these days. Obviously, there are a few workplaces, mainly churches, where promoting religion is the job and it’s therefore understandable that employers might require certain beliefs of employees and employees are expected to push their beliefs on clients. This is why churches are exempted from many non-discrimination laws. But outside of the church, when one person starts claiming that their religious freedom requires imposing their faith on others, how do we draw the line? In Hobby Lobby v Burwell, Justice Alito specifically said that just because Hobby Lobby would be allowed to foist its anti-contraception agenda onto employees doesn’t mean future employers would be able to foist, say, an anti-vaccine agenda. When some people’s religious “freedom” requires restricting the religious freedom of others, it’s hard to avoid concluding that conservative Christians are the ones who will demand the right to foist their beliefs and the rest of us are going to see our very basic right to be left alone to make our own choices trickle away.

  6. Elaine M. says:

    Access Denied: The Religious Right Opens Up A New Front On Its War Against Birth Control
    Jul 21, 2014
    by Rob Boston

    Some commentators continue to insist that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was no big deal. It’s a narrow ruling, they insist, and there are other ways to ensure that women can get access to birth control.

    Birth control is a vital component of women’s health, and I find it disturbing that so many people are blithely dismissing a high court ruling that has the potential to curtail access to millions of women. Yes, generic birth control pills are cheap, but not all women can use generics. In fact, not all women can or want to use birth control pills. Other options, such as IUDs, sterilizing operations and cervical caps, tend to be more expensive.

    More to the point, the legal argument buttressing this supposedly “narrow” ruling is already spurring Religious Right groups to ramp up their increasingly aggressive war against access to birth control.

    Consider this case from Florida: A woman named Sara Hellwege is in federal court suing Tampa Family Health Centers (TFHC) after the facility refused to hire her as a nurse midwife. Officials at TFHC had at first expressed some interest in bringing Hellwege on staff but changed their minds after learning that she would refuse to provide any form of hormonal contraceptives to clients.

    Hormonal contraceptives include some of the most common types – birth control pills, patches, implants and vaginal rings. TFHC serves a primarily low-income population; many of the women who patronize the clinic come there for birth control. And if Hellwege had been on duty, they would not have been able to get most forms of it.

    In short, Hellwege admitted upfront that she was not willing to do a good percentage of this job. The clinic, quite naturally, declined to hire her because she doesn’t actually want to perform many of the tasks they need done. According to Hellwege and her attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), she is a victim of religious discrimination!

    The ADF is playing hardball. Because TFHC serves a low-income population, it is supported in part by federal funding. Hellwege and the ADF are seeking $400,000 in damages for her. They also want to clinic to be fined, and they want it to lose all of its public funding. This would essentially cripple the facility and most likely end in its being shuttered – which is probably what Hellwege and the ADF are really after here.

  7. Annie says:

    Seriously, this woman calls herself a nurse? Does she think she would keep her job anywhere if she refuses to do a vital part of her job because of a religious belief?

  8. Pingback: Are Religious Discrimination Lawsuits the Religious Right’s “New Front” in the Birth Control War? | Flowers For Socrates

  9. Elaine M. says:

    Wingnut Nurse Sues Family Planning Center For Not Giving Her Job Just Because She Says She Won’t Do Job
    by Kaili Joy Gray
    Jul 18,2014

    The ADF claims it has filed this lawsuit, for Sara wink wink, against the Tampa Family Health Centers “for refusing to consider an applicant for employment as a nurse because she is a member of a pro-life medical association and has a faith-based objection to prescribing some birth control methods that could lead to an abortion.”

    Oh, poor Sara, let us weep for her, persecuted merely for believing that birth control is sometimes abortion because she missed the class at nursing school that taught her how birth control is NOT abortion, it is like this whole other thing because it actually IS this whole other thing…

    …I shall point out a few interesting details for your eye-rolling vomit-inducing amusement, which come directly from Sara’s very own complaint and yet somehow do not make a very good argument on her behalf, maybe, just maybe, because she does not have one.

    – Sara “possesses beliefs against prescribing hormonal contraceptives in certain circumstances,
    which she believes have the potential to act in a manner potentially threatening the lives of embryos after their conception/fertilization.” That’s nice. It has no basis in actual scientific fact, of course, but who would even want a health care provider to rely on dumb science instead of “beliefs”?

    – Sara is a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists
    (AAPLOG), which, shockingly, is a real organization of medical providers who base their “medical” practice on the belief that every sperm is sacred and if a sperm is wasted, American Jesus gets quite irate. Sara informed the Tampa Family Health Centers that she is one of these cult members, which is kind of a problem, because Tampa Family Health Centers provides health care instead of sermons. Which is why the human resources director, who obviously has the patience of Job (that’s some Biblical shit for you right there, BOOM!), asked Sara if she even wanted the job, on account of how she believes that doing the job is wrong. Also, a reasonable person who is not a total idiot could probably understand why the Tampa Family Health Centers might be a little concerned about hiring someone who thinks its services are bad and wrong and evil and blah blah blah, because that could be sort of, ya know, awwwwwwwwwwkward. Who would want a co-worker who is all, like, “I brought in some muffins, and just so you know, what you’re doing today kills little BABIES!!! and you’re probably going to hell, hey, you wanna be my potato sack race partner at the company picnic this weekend?”

    – In a series of email exchanges between Sara and the Job-like director of human resources, Sara explains that “due to religious guidelines,” she cannot prescribe all forms of contraception, even though prescribing contraception is part of the job for which she is applying, but she thinks she’s so special or something that maybe she can just not do that part of the job, if that is okay, and is the Tampa Family Health Centers maybe looking to hire someone for “antepartum & laborist only” because then she can do health care to women without violating her “religious guidelines” by doing health care to women?

    – The director of human resources very politely emailed Sara that because the center provides family planning services, and Sara belongs to a group that does not believe in providing family planning services, and no, sorry, there are no positions for “antepartum & laborist only,” buh-bye, good luck, fuck off. (Actually, he did not write “fuck off,” but don’t you wish he would have? I would have. So would you, come on, be honest.)

    – Instead of taking the hint that there was no opening for a health care provider who objects to providing health care, Sara got all “I WILL NOT BE IGNORED, DAN!” and kept emailing anyway because although she can totally believe that ovulation is abortion, she could NOT believe that a health care clinic would not jump at the opportunity to hire a health care provider who refuses to provide health care.

  10. Those people are trying to get before a Court of Equity? Haven’t they read the rules of evidence? One of the rules is that the aggrieved party must appear before the Court with “clean hands.”

    When the claimed aggrieved party is a major part of the problem, that doesn’t exactly equate with clean hands.

  11. The religious right cannot have it both ways… Plus Florida is an At Will employment state…. But if she stated right off the bat she wouldn’t do the job required…. What leg does she have to sue upon…. Sounds like a test case to me…

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