According to a press release from the ironically named religious watch dog group Alliance Defending Freedom or ADF, a pro-life nurse is suing Tampa Family Health Center, a Florida-based family planning clinic, for refusing to consider her application for a certified midwife nurse position. She claims the center only declined her application after discovering that she has a faith-based objection to prescribing certain forms of birth control. When I first read about this case, I wondered why a pro-life nurse would even consider working at a family planning clinic, and I honestly suspected some legal shenanigans were at play to make the clinic look bad. Then I read the email chain between the nurse, Sara Hellwege, and the Director of Human Resources at the clinic, Chad Lindsey. Now not only do I think Hellwege has a decent case, but I think it’s pretty clear that some discrimination did go on.
As anyone who even casually follows my work knows, I am stridently, vocally pro-choice. And for the most part I believe that anyone with religious objections to abortion or birth control should probably not be working in a family planning center. That would be like a vegetarian applying for a butcher position and then refusing to touch meat. But that isn’t what happened here. She is also not suing for “not being hired,” which is how many media sources are reporting it. Hellwege is suing because her application was only denied once her connection to a faith-based pro-life organization was discovered.
According to the email chain provided by ADF, Lindsey seemed very interested in Hellwege’s resume. Numerous emails go back and forth between the two, with Lindsey asking various questions about Hellwege’s qualifications and other administrative concerns. Then Lindsey notices Hellewege’s affiliation with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG). Lindsey’s concerns are understandable, seeing as Tampa Family Health Center is a Title X status facility, which means they receive federal grants for providing comprehensive family planning and other related preventative health services to low-income individuals. When Lindsay asks Hellwege whether her pro-life beliefs would cause her to “decline an interview if offered one”, citing the facilities Title X status, her response is concise and, at least in my opinion, perfectly reasonable:
“Hi Mr. Lindsey,
Thanks for such a timely response. Yes, I am a member of AAPLOG. Due to religious guidelines, I am able to counsel women regarding all forms of contraception, however, cannot Rx it unless pathology exists – however have no issue with barrier methods & sterilization. If offered an interview, is there a position available for antepartum & laborist only, or do all CNMs perform postpartum & well woman/preventative care?”
To which Lindsey answered:
Due to the fact we are a Title X organization and you are a member of AAPLOG we would be unable to move forward in the interviewing process. An unfortunately, we do not have any positions for antepartum & laborist only.
Good luck in your future endeavors.”
I think the wording here is seriously shady. No where does Hellwege say that she is only interested in antepartum and laborist positions, she merely asks whether these positions are available. The fact that Lindsey immediately shuts her down due to her affiliation with a religious group is very problematic. Hellwege goes on to clarify her previous email here:
“Dear Mr. Lindsey,
To clarify, I am not merely seeking a position that encompasses antepartum & laborist care only. I was asking about that option only so I would know if it was available. I would still desire to apply for a position that includes postpartum & well woman/preventative care as well as antepartum & laborist care, within the religious and moral parameters I stated previously. With that clarification, is it still possible for me to move forward in your application process?”
Still a very reasonable question, if you ask me. She’s not insisting she be hired, only asking for the opportunity to be considered, something Lindsey seemed eager to do only a few emails prior to this. Lindsey never responded after this point.
Now, I am as liberal as they come, but the way certain liberal media sources are reporting on this case is reprehensible. Hellwege isn’t some entitled pro-life drama queen insisting on being hired for a job she refuses to do. Hellwege isn’t asking to be hired at all, only considered. And it’s clear to me from this chain of emails that if she wasn’t affiliated with a religious group, she most likely would have been considered. Not only that, but Hellwege seemed more than willing to compromise with this facility to perform the job required. Unlike what many media sources have reported, Hellwege never refused to prescribe ALL forms of birth control, merely anything that may lead to abortion. She is also willing to counsel patients on ALL forms of BC, including abortifacients.
If you’re a masochist that likes to torture yourself with legalese, you can read the official complain here.
Do I agree with Hellwege? No, I do not. Do I think plenty of conservative media sources are exaggerating the degree to which she was discriminated against? Of course they are. But whether or not you or I or Lindsey agrees with her moral opinions is irrelevant. She was discriminated against, plain and simple, and that’s not okay. Even if he didn’t mean to be discriminatory, his poor choice of words and lack of a response to Hellwege’s final email have opened this organization up to legal action, which is unfortunate because they seem to do great work.