A nurse is suing a Florida health center, claiming officials there refused to hire her due to her opposition to certain forms of birth control and standing membership in a pro-life organization.
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Sara Hellwege inquired about a nurse-midwife position with the Tampa Family Health Centers in April, but the clinic allegedly cited her membership in the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that opposes abortion, as a reason she wasn't eligible, according to Live Action.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group representing Hellwege, said the move was both unacceptable and illegal under state and federal law.
"No one deserves to suffer discrimination just because they’re pro-life," senior legal counsel Matt Bowman said in a press release earlier this month. "Federal and state law make it clear that being pro-abortion cannot be a prerequisite for employment, nor can federally funded facilities force nurses to assist with practices that could lead to an abortion."
A chain of emails between Hellwege and a Chad L. Lindsey — who is identified as the director of human resources for Tampa Family Health Centers, Inc. — show questions emerge about the prospective employee's membership in the group.
"Yes, I am a member of AAPLOG," Hellwege wrote in an email. "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."
It is her admission — and the subsequent response from the health center — that are at the heart of the legal battle, as Lindsey indicated that Hellwege's membership in the pro-life group would serve as a barrier to her employment.
"Due to the fact we are a Title X organization and you are an member of AAPLOG, we would be unable to move forward in the interviewing process," he responded, sparking a First Amendment showdown.
The Alliance Defending Freedom subsequently filed complaints against Tampa Family Health Centers, which is federally-funded, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Additionally, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, Live Action reported.
"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 lawsuit reads.
It continues: "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.""
But while Hellwege and her team are fighting back, critics are dismissing the case. Consider atheist blogger Hemant Mehta, who accused the nurse of having an "unscientific mind" and the Alliance Defending Freedom of also being on the wrong side of the issue.
"She’s suing him because he’s not hiring her for a job she refuses to do," Mehta wrote. "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 the Separation of Church and State staffer Rob Boston agrees.
"In short, Hellwege admitted upfront that she was not willing to do a good percentage of this job," he wrote. "The clinic, quite naturally, declined to hire her because she doesn’t actually want to perform many of the tasks they need done.
Hellwege's lawsuit seeks legal fees, $400,000 in damages and the removal of federal funds from the Tampa Family Health Centers.
(H/T: Live Action)
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