A federal judge has ruled that a Tampa rape victim known as R.W. can sue the Hillsborough County Sheriff after a jail guard refused to give her an emergency contraception pill because it was against her religious beliefs. Jail employee Michele Spinelli explained to R.W. that she would not give her the pill approved by a doctor because she viewed them to be a sin.
R.W.says she was raped on Jan. 27, 2007 and went to Tampa’s Rape Crisis Center where a doctor gave R.W. gave two anti-contraception pills. She took one as instructed and was supposed to take the other 12 hours later. However, a Tampa police officer discovered that she had a warrant out for her arrest and took her into custody. When the time came to take the second pill, Spinelli refused.
R.W. did not get pregnant but sued for the violation of her right to privacy and denial of equal protection.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich found the amended complaint to be sufficient to go to trial. In doing so, she found that “The single action of a final policy-maker can represent official government policy, even when the action is not meant to control later decisions.” The Sheriff allowed Spinelli to work at the jail without supervision or direction. Taking the allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, the court ruled that the lawsuit could proceed.
If true, the allegations could not be more disturbing. We have seen a debate over pharmacies and religious organizations opposed to supplying contraceptives. However, this is a state employee with a woman who is in custody. Had she given birth, it would have created a bizarre “wrongful birth” case where the defendant is the state. Even without a birth, if these allegations are true, this woman was put through a harrowing experience.