A Tampa woman whom we only know as R.W., was raped. She was treated by the rape crisis center, who gave her two emergency contraception pills, one to be taken immediately and one to be taken 12 hours later. When she reported the rape to the police, they uncovered an arrest warrant on R.W. for failure to pay restitution and failure to appear. After she was arrested, a Hillsborough County guard confiscated her second pill, claiming it was against her religious beliefs.
From Courthouse News:
R.W. says she requested her second pill the next morning, but jail employee Michele Spinelli refused. “Spinelli told the Plaintiff that she would not give R.W. the pill because it was against Spinelli’s religious beliefs,” the first amended complaint states.
Although R.W. did not get pregnant, she sued Spinelli and Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee for gender discrimination and violations of the right to privacy and the right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
The Sheriff’s office essentially contended that Spinelli was acting as an individual, and she was not the “final policy maker,” meaning that the government office wouldn’t be accountable.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich disagreed. She found for R.W., claiming that Spinelli was the final policy maker since she was the only person on duty at the time and she hadn’t been given a directive, one way or another, by Sheriff Gee. The conclusion is that R.W. will be able to sue the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office.
While it is tough to draw correlations between court decisions regarding government agencies and those effecting private corporations (like pharmacies), this decision does bode well for the women who have been denied access to contraception, simply because the person standing behind a pharmacy counter doesn’t share her beliefs.