Tampa Rape Victim Sues After Jailer Refused Emergency Contraception Pill Due To Religious Beliefs

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.

Source: Courthouse

94 thoughts on “Tampa Rape Victim Sues After Jailer Refused Emergency Contraception Pill Due To Religious Beliefs”

  1. She could NOT file an injunction against an act that had already taken place! And she had no STANDING to file an injunction action against anyone for doing something to someone else at some other time! And no lawyer would take a case where there was no money to be made!

    OUR SYSTEM required that in order to deal with the problem, the only legal way for her to do ANYTHING about it was to do what she DID DO about it and more power to her!

    Try just doing good in this world by pointing out that bad has been done!

    1. Mandatory injunctions are entered all the time to enjoin prospective actions. She has as much standing as anyone to bring that type of suit. It’s about money and ripping off the taxpayer. If she just wanted to “do good” she would have either filed an injunction action or sued the jailer and left the taxpayers alone. I don’t think that the actions of the jailer were somethng that was dictated by the county. She acted on her own and yes the count may be liable for real damages but if there were any they were nominal, as the article points out. Besides, the jailer thought she was “doing good”.

  2. A child psychiatrist (now deceased) named Richard Gardner once put forward the theory that simply ACCUSING a man of having molested a child was enough to make the behavior stop, if it even happened in the first place. He said, therefore, that there should not be any need to continue to carry on about a guy having molested a child: if he was accused, the behavior is OVER automatically, and therefore, what’s the big deal? SEE? So under that theory, in 2001 when some Penn State folks mentioned to Jerry Sandusky that his conduct was noticed, that should have been enough and there was no need to go and prosecute him after all those years. Would that play? His defense counsel doesn’t seem to have even considered using that argument — right? The issue is that thing generally do not STOP even if you think they “should” or “might” simply because someone has brought something bad to someone’s attention. If you don’t push the thing all the way through to the bloody conclusion, under our system, you may as well roll over and accept whatever may be done to you. Or to others. Or to everyone.

  3. Subnx, I disagree about continuation of the suit being “just a drain” because if THIS county deals with this little problem, that is allegedly fine, but if the suit is continued and comes up with something important, that can become precedent and it will be dealt with.

    Besides which, this woman really DID have damages in that she was put at risk and treated badly after being (a) raped and (b) arrested. To think that was “de minimus” smacks of a kind of attitude that we don’t want to admit is our American way of life. Maybe if this were Iran, or China, or —

    The fact that she was able to get this far with her lawsuit is also something that should be taken into consideration. Most people with claims against jails or state agencies get thrown out before their cases are even horizontal before they reach the circular file. Which, of course, explains why jails and state agencies (etc.) behave in such a cavalier manner and victimize folks so often.

    We live in a society where there is no accountability, only liability. If you can’t make out a case for liability, you’ve got nothing.

    1. The key is just what you said. She filed a liability action instead of an injunction action. Her and her lawyer want money. The issue of why the U.S. incarcerates more people per capita for insanely lengthy sentences than just about anyone else in the world is the subject of another discussion.

  4. Subnx, wrong, about the “suing the sheriff instead of the jailer” and wrong about the suit being frivolous because there were “no damages.” There is a concept of law that says you sue the SUPERIOR for the acts of the employee. Why? Because the employee was doing the job under the supervision of and attributable to the superior. You do not sue the individual person who did the wrong because they did not do it for themselves; they did it for the agency they work for. RESPONDEAT SUPERIOR — the superior (employer, boss, commanding officer, etc.) answers. And as to it being frivolous because there were no damages — there is a principle of law called, “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” It means that since each person’s need for medication may only last a few days, after which they will perhaps get better (or not need it) or get deathly ill or die or something, the courts deal with the issue (although specific damages did not seem to flow from it) because it is, as the principle suggests, capable of REPETITION but unlikely to get to court until something horrible happens. Therefore, the plaintiff in this suit did everything right, and it is not frivolous (which is what the judge ruled, by the way): She sued the SUPERIOR responsible; she sued because the tort was “capable of repetition yet evading review.” She should win. It will save the taxpayers a lot of money if it prevents some other fool from withholding medication from an inmate who ends up with a multi-gazillion-dollar claim that can’t be resolved without a giant mess!

    1. You can sue both but, as was mentioned in the article, the damages will only be nominal and I suspect that the county has already made sure that anyone in that position in the future doesn’t have the reservations of that jailer although that will probably result in some sort of religious discrimination suit under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or on some other theory). Continuation of the suit is just a drain on the taxpayers and is emblematic of the many things that are out of control in our tort system.

  5. You notice that the plaintiff sued the sheriff instead of the jailer. It’s all about extortion of the taxpayers.
    ———————————————-
    Wow

    I thought I was in a negative down spiral….I must be on my way back up…. 😉

  6. Malisha says it but I will also say it. Analogizing Exterminating jews in a system where your choice was kill them or we will kill you vs. saying ‘can’t conscience”, and getting someone else in a timely fashion to do the job you have refused to do is I guess not really understanding the concept of analogy

    1. So it’s not a perfect analogy. The executioner one was better but she blew right past that one. Actually,possess possible for a Nazi to request a transfer to the Russian front. I bet those were freely granted. Getting someone else to do the job would be aiding and abetting the immoral act. The jailer prevented it from happening. More like sabotaging the execution mechanism (or the gas chamber in the other analogy). Setting aside for the moment the culpability or non culpability of the jailer the suit is a frivolous suit by someone with no legal damages which is just costing taxpayers money and will probably get settled for paying the lawyer fees and some nuisance money to the plaintiff. You notice that the plaintiff sued the sheriff instead of the jailer. It’s all about extortion of the taxpayers.

  7. Subnx, you’ve gone from “medicine equals pork” to “doing your job in giving a victimized woman a pill the doctor says she needs equals murdering a few Jews in a gas chamber.” But that is probably the kind of thinking that gave the jail guard the idea that she could deny medicine to the inmate who had a prescription for it. Once you decide that YOUR CONDUCT is the RIGHT CONDUCT, it no longer matters that others, including your employers (where you are voluntarily employed) have valid reasons to expect you to do something you have signed on to do.

    The Germans under the control of Goering could not just say, “Hey I don’t like this job because it disturbs my conscience; I think I’ll get a different job maybe scrubbing floors for some Jews in town,” and leave the employ of their Fuhrer. SOME GERMANS DID “QUIT” and most of them were killed, quite horribly. Very few of them tried this method. But this jail guard had every right to go to her superior officer, say, “I refuse to take part in this act of unconscionable murder by delivering this immoral pill to that inmate; therefore either you do this part of my job for me so I don’t have to do it, or I will quit on the spot and go find a job doing something moral, like saving Jews or something.”

    She had a right to do that. Nobody would torture her to death for doing that. She was free to do that. She was an American and had a right to leave her employer for reasons best known to herself. Under the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, HER employer could not have forced her to commit an immoral act or to stay in the employ of the immoral agency that wanted her to commit that immoral act.

    Did she choose to exercise her constitutional right to quit? NO.

    She chose, instead, to violate the inmate’s constitutional right to adequate medical care while incarcerated.

  8. “Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy before it begins, and works primarily or perhaps exclusively by delaying or inhibiting ovulation; it does not cause an abortion.”

    1. There you go citing biology again rather than conscience. Not being particularly interested in cellular biology I can’t comment on the accuracy of your statement but it doesn’t change the belief of the jailer at the time of the incident and her unwillingness to participate in what she believed to be an immoral act. General Goering orders you to turn on the gas and lawfully under then existing German law execute a few Jews. You gonna do it?

  9. It is very simple. The jailer did not want to do her job. At the least she should have immediately gotte someone else to do her work for her. Simple issue when you get down to it, she had a job to do as part of her employment and refused. She is eing vilified, because she added more injury to what a rape victim had already experienced. Shame on her. And if she bothered to ask WWJD I doubt he owuld say make it even harder for this woman who has been through so much already.
    Bettykath is right on he mark. This was not “murder” or even the attempt at murder, since there was no living creature. This was to stop the possibility of a pregnancy. Had she been asked to give the woman some kinid of pill that would kill a 3 month old fetus, or even a 1 day old fetus, if it were possible to kow that existed, it would be different.
    This was a medical issue pure and simple. This jailer was not pro life, her actions were anti life of the woman in front of her.

    1. You are assuming that there was no living creature. Once you make that assumption all of your conclusions logically follow. If you make the contrary assumption then other conclusions logically follow. I tend to lean toward your assumption but that doesn’t matter.

  10. Belief isn’t the law.

    The physical aspects of a miscarriage and the morning after pill are pretty much the same except in a miscarriage the zygote may be more than a single cell and it may, in fact, have actually developed into an embryo. Are you suggesting that God commits murder through miscarriage?

    There are just too many people who are ignorant of basic biology. Maybe they are too stupid to learn. In any case, they are perfect targets for fundamentalist religions and zealots.

    1. There you go again with the biology argument. You may be right but that’s not the point. God does whatever God does and none of really know if or why and it’s not for us to put labels on that. The point is that if someone believes that it is murder to give someone a morning after pill then both of you may be right or wrong because you both assume the conclusion. You assume that your biological interpretation dictates humanity because that’s your frame of reference. She thinks otherwise. Once the conclusion is assumed the action, or in this case the inaction, is dictated.

  11. Subnx, then you find someone else to administer the doctor given medication. This was not an option, had it been say nitroglycerine or insulin, and the jailer was a 7th day adventist, should they have withheld the medication, and that is what it is medication, a pill, a medicine that a doctor gave t a patient and was withheld from her.
    The doctor is absolutley relevant. This was not a piece of bubble gum from a bubble gum machine. It was a medicine, does not matter for what or why.
    This jailer, if G-d forbid there had been a pregnancy, should have been forced to psy for all expenses related to the product of the rape up to the age of 18.
    (Children may sometimes be an inconvenience but when it reminds you every second of every day of a man who invaded your body without your permission, who committed violence on you, it is a heck of a lot mre then an inconvenience.
    I would be surprised if this happened to someone in the jailer’s own family if they did not consider using the morning after pill.
    In theory this s a nice concept: I dont believe in contraception, even when there is no pregnancy and this is to prevent that from happening. In reality it is a whole lot different.

  12. BettyKath, I think what Subnx is saying is that he or she would have done the same as this jail employee who declared herself to be the messenger of god. “Doctors are irrelevant” is the same as “laws are irrelevant” and all of that is equivalent to: “ALL THAT IS RELEVANT IS WHAT I THINK IS RIGHT.”

    THere’s a lot of THAT going around — and lots of it comes from the quarters that won’t eat pork, too.

  13. Subnx,

    The doctor is not relevant? This was a medical decision based on a discussion between the patient and the doctor. The discussion, the diagnosis, the prescription are all legal. No one has the right to interfere.

    I’m not sure how anyone could see the prevention of a single diploid cell, called a zygote, from being attached to the uterine wall as being murder. A single cell. The greatest number of abortions by far, or murders if you insist, occur naturally. They are called miscarriages. Should I have been prosecuted for a miscarriage? That’s what these crazy laws that give the zygote has full rights and the woman has none are suggesting. Geesh. See the George Carlin video posted on “Black like us” thread.

    1. You’re missing the point entirely. Your medical conclusion may be correct or not. You believe it isn’t murder and the jailer did. Until GE and Siemens get more proficient we won’t know for sure. But if you’re the jailer and you think it’s murder then you can’t do it. If you were the jailer and ordered to execute the prisoner and you think that to carry out the death penalty is murder then you can refuse. You can be fired but you shouldn’t be vilified for refusing to execute the prisoner. You may think the jailer was silly to believe as she does but lots of people thought that about early term abortions until GE and Siemens showed otherwise. The miscarriage analogy doesn’t work. Auto accidents and miscarriages happen and notwithstanding tort lawyers they are accidents. Doing something on purpose is a different thing. Doctors can’t authorize murder. Personally, I agree with you regarding your medical conclusion but that isn’t the issue.

  14. Subnx1, July 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    I bet if it was a Muslim jailer refusing to serve pork he would be suing and all of these commenters would be supporting his right to follow his religion but let this jailer follow her religious principles and she is vilified.

    Subnx1
    refusing to serve pork will not have a potential result of 9 months of pregnancy, possible health issues resulting from the pregnancy, an 18 years, and beyond, commitment, and a possibly uunwanted child who will then also suffer from this one person deciding his religious beliefs trump the law and a medication given to the rape victim by a doctor; and that a rape victim can again be emotionally raped by this person refusing to give one aspect of the help she needed and for which she cried out. “Nope. My beliefs are much more important that the trauma you went through and I am now going to increase exponentially that trauma and pain.” That is the christian thing to do after all.

    1. Children are always an inconvenience. If you believe that after intercourse pills are murder then you can’t assist. The doctor is not relevant.

  15. Subnx, I think you should actually conduct an experiment to test that theory. Find a story where a Florida jail (or prison) guard refuses to serve pork to an inmate in spite of that inmate’s having a pork prescription from a licensed physician, and write a guest blog about the story, and see how “all of these commenters” respond. I mean, y’know, make it real, man.

  16. I bet if it was a Muslim jailer refusing to serve pork he would be suing and all of these commenters would be supporting his right to follow his religion but let this jailer follow her religious principles and she is vilified.

  17. Upthread, where the video appears of the cop throwing a quadriplegic out of his wheelchair, I got yet another shock to my young life.

    Is the Commission on Disabled Americans (I forgot their real name, sorry) aware of this violation? Shouldn’t heads roll?

    Why is the victim having to use civil courts to get something done here; shouldn’t the (female) officer who assaulted him be charged with a felony?

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