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

Published July 21, 2014 9:21PM (EDT)

                                           (<a href=''>bogdan ionescu</a>, <a href=''>Jacob Kearns</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(bogdan ionescu, Jacob Kearns via Shutterstock/Salon)

A nurse in Florida does not want to prescribe people birth control, but wanted to work at a family health center where prescribing people birth control is a job requirement. After not getting an interview for the job on the grounds of refusing upfront to do part of the job, the woman is now suing for alleged discrimination.

Sara Hellwege is a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists who believes that birth control can "cause the death of a human embryo." As such, she is able to "counsel women regarding all forms of contraception," but not prescribe it "unless pathology exists," which is exactly what she told the director of human resources at Tampa Family Health Centers. She then inquired about available positions as a laborist or antepartum nurse. The director responded with a polite email informing her that no such positions were available, and that her stated refusal to meet the requirements of the position of certified nurse-midwife would be a barrier to her moving forward with the application process.

Hellwege's complaint against the medical center 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."

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?

These are all reasonable questions to ask of someone who wants to work as a certified nurse-midwife in a family planning center, but has expressed a refusal to prescribe birth control. It's not about a religious view, it's about the quality of care, the medical information being dispensed and the range of reproductive health services available to patients. The questions remains about whether or not Hellwege should have gotten the interview, but the standard of care she would be willing to provide seems more than relevant here.

Who knows how this case will proceed, but we are in a political, cultural and legal landscape in which Hellwege may be able to fight -- and win -- to "counsel" women about birth control that she does not believe in.

h/t Wonkette

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Birth Control Religious Liberty Reproductive Justice Reproductive Rights