Is “religious freedom” about being free to practice your faith, or just a generic cover story for any and all attempts to try to foist your beliefs on others? In this era of Hobby Lobby vs. Burwell, it’s understandable that many on the right have decided it’s the latter and are eager to start testing the limits of how much leverage the expansive new definition of “religious freedom” gives them to meddle with the private contraception choices of others. Next on the docket: Attempting to force family planning centers to hire nurse-midwives who refuse to let patients plan their families, all in the name of “religious freedom.”
That is indeed the question, and it’s the general principle behind the expansive new definition that is so infuriating, as well as the specific details of the case. I detest this idea that “religious freedom” includes freedom to force one’s religious claims on other people. It makes me bristle like a porcupine.
Sara Hellwege is a nurse-midwife in Tampa, Florida, who opposes the use of some of the most effective and female-controlled forms of contraception, such as the birth control pill. Despite that position, Hellwege applied for a job with the Tampa Family Health Centers. When asked by the human resources director about her affiliation with an anti-contraception group called the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Hellwege admitted she would refuse to prescribe the birth control pill to anyone who wanted it. She was summarily told that prescribing the birth control pill was part of the job and was not hired.
Which is exactly what should happen. Rather than hiring people who will refuse to do parts of the job they were hired to do, and then making “accommodations” for those people (at the expense of everyone else affected), the thing to do is ask before hiring if the candidate will do all the parts of the job. If the answer is no, obviously that person should not be hired.
Win or lose, Hellwege’s case provides insight in how the war on contraception is shaping up. Direct assaults through legislation are going to be a much harder sell with contraception than abortion, so instead we’re getting the argument that someone else’s “religious freedom”—your boss, your nurse—entitles them to interfere with your ability to get contraception. Family planning centers are one place that women have long been able to trust will provide them contraception access without unnecessary hassle, and now the Christian right is trying to take even that away.
And then they’ll move on to interning women who refuse to marry.