The XX Factor

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

Sara Hellwege claims that her religious freedom was violated when she didn’t get a job that would require her to prescribe the hormonal birth control she refuses to prescribe.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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? 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. Next on the docket: Attempting to force family planning centers to hire nurse-midwives who refuse to let patients plan their families, all in the name of “religious freedom.”

Sara Hellwege is a nurse-midwife in Tampa, Florida, who opposes the use of some of the most effective and female-controlled forms of contraception, such as the birth control pill. Despite that position, Hellwege applied for a job with the Tampa Family Health Centers. When asked by the human resources director about her affiliation with an anti-contraception group called the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Hellwege admitted she would refuse to prescribe the birth control pill to anyone who wanted it. She was summarily told that prescribing the birth control pill was part of the job and was not hired.

Now, Hellwege is suing, with the backing of the Christian right organization Alliance Defending Freedom handling her case.  Both ADF and Hellwege throw the word “abortion” around a lot, falsely conflating non-barrier methods of contraception with abortion.  But the factual inaccuracy of Hellwege’s claims may not be an issue here, since the lawsuit argues that Hellwege is a victim of religious discrimination and deserves to be hired by a family planning clinic despite “her religious beliefs and association with the pro-life group AAPLOG.” Of course, the Supreme Court in Burwell v Hobby Lobby said that case covers all forms of contraception objected to in the name of religion, with no need for pseudoscience garble conflating ovulation suppression with abortion necessary, suggesting that the liberal use of the word “abortion” in this case is more about the continued right wing campaign to demonize contraception than anything else.

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.

Correction, July 21, 2014: This post and its headline originally misidentified Sara Hellwege as a nurse. She is a nurse-midwife.