Shortly after graduation from her nursing program, Hellwege began applying for jobs as a nurse-midwife. Upon submitting her application to Tampa Family Health Centers, they noted her to be a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists (AAPLOG).
Hellwege is a Christian who believes life begins at the moment of conception. Because of this, she was taken out of the hiring process following questioning about her membership with AAPLOG.
The Health Center turned Hellwege away because she could not in good conscience prescribe hormonal birth control methods that may have abortifacient effects. The center is a Title X clinic, meaning it receives federal funding to provide family planning and preventative health services.
The court ruled that under the Church Amendment, there exists no private right of action and therefore the Department of Health and Human Services remained the sole actor with possible recourse for medical professionals in cases of conscience-based discrimination under federal law. The district court’s ruling, therefore, provided no relief for the harm done to Hellwege through the Health Center’s blatant discrimination. The court’s decision thus failed to discourage discrimination on the basis of religion in health care.
Hellwege was able to reach a settlement with Tampa Family Health Centers on her Title VII claim, but the Church Amendment proved to be an ineffective measure against discrimination for religious beliefs.
Due to the inadequacy of existing conscience protections, health care professionals remain at risk of further discrimination for their religious beliefs. If health care institutions are allowed to continue this pattern of discrimination against pro-life applicants and employees, pro-life medical professionals will soon be endangered in the health care industry. The result could be a drastic shortage in access to pro-life health care. Due to the lack of federal laws providing substantive conscience protections for medical professionals, states should strongly consider adding effective conscience protection laws at the state level.