Pro-life nurse files lawsuit after being denied job

Wikimedia3D ultrasound of 3-inch (76 mm) fetus (about 14 weeks gestational age).

A pro-life nurse, Sara Hellwege, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit last month after she was denied a job application at a Florida health center.

Hellwege was not considered for a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) position because of her refusal to perform abortions. She alleges that the job denial is a violation of freedom of religion protections.

While still a nursing student, Hellwege submitted a resume and job inquiry email for a CNM position with Tampa Family Health Centers (TFHC). A series of published emails show Hellwege corresponding with the Centers' Human Resources director, Chad Lindsey, who informed her that the facilities are Title X organizations.

Title X facilities provide low or no-cost family planning and preventative health services, including STD testing, pelvic exams, birth control, and pregnancy counseling. Many neighborhood clinics and Planned Parenthood affiliates are Title X health centers. Federal funds are not allowed to be used for abortions.

Lindsey asked if her membership in the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) would preclude her from proceeding with the interview process. Hellwege responded that she could not perform all of the duties of the position.

"Yes, I am a member of AAPLOG," she wrote. "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."

In response, the HR director informed her that she was no longer being considered for the position.

"Due to the fact that we are a Title X organization and you are a member of AAPLOG, we would be unable to move forward in the interviewing process," he said.

Hellwege, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, filed lawsuits last month with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, and in U.S. District Court.

"TFHC's refusal to consider Ms. Hellwege's application for employment on the basis of her religious beliefs and association with the pro-life group AAPLOG violates multiple federal laws," the district court lawsuit reads.

"Florida law shall not require 'any person to participate in the termination of a pregnancy, nor shall...any person be liable for such refusal' ... Ms. Hellwege has the right to refuse to prescribe abortifacient contraceptives where such actions violate her religious beliefs or moral convictions."

Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta called the lawsuits ridiculous.

"She's suing him because he's not hiring her for a job she refuses to do," he wrote in a blog post. "It makes as much sense as a vegetarian suing Taco Bell for not hiring him even though he told the manager he couldn't be near meat."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State Communications Director Rob Boston also said the HR director was correct in ending the application process.

"In short, Hellwege admitted upfront that she was not willing to do a good percentage of this job," he wrote in a post last week. "The clinic, quite naturally, declined to hire her because she doesn't actually want to perform many of the tasks they need done."

Hellwege seeks $400,000, attorney's fees, and the removal of Health and Human Services funds from TFHC.