Fla. Jailer Cites 'Religious Beliefs' for Denying 'Morning After' Pill

TAMPA, Fla.—Hillsborough County, the anti-porn county that was the site of Max Hardcore's obscenity prosecution and Stormy Daniels' dust-up with ex-husband Mike Moz, continues its brushes with controversy, this time for one of its sheriff's deputies refusing to allow an inmate to take her prescribed emergency contraception pill because it offended the deputy's religious beliefs.

According to Courthouse News, "R.W." was raped on January 27, 2007, and after being seen by a doctor at Tampa's Rape Crisis Center, was given a course of anti-conception medication that consisted of two pills: One to be taken immediately, and one to be taken 12 hours later.

But when R.W. reported her rape to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office, an arrest warrant for her on charges of failure to appear in court and failure to pay restitution in another case turned up, and R.W. was jailed for the offenses. As part of processing R.W. through the system, her second anti-conception pill was confiscated, and when R.W. asked for it the following morning, she allegedly was told by jail employee Michele Spinelli that should couldn't have it "because it was against Spinelli's religious beliefs."

So R.W. sued both Spinelli and her boss Sheriff David Gee, charging gender discrimination, violation of her medical privacy rights and her substantive due process privacy rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Although Spinelli and Gee had argued that A.W.'s claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 (for deprivation of her civil rights) and her Fourteenth Amendment claims should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich denied the defendant Spinelli's motion to dismiss, stating, "although '[t]he Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy,' the Court has recognized that one aspect of the 'liberty' protected by the due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is 'a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy.' This guarantee of privacy includes 'the interest in independence in making certain kinds of important decisions.' An individual's decision to use or not to use contraception is undoubtedly among those fundamental decisions protection [sic] by the right of privacy." [Citations omitted] However, the judge did dismiss both similar counts against Sheriff Gee.

"This is yet another example of the disturbing trend of conscience-clause excuses for not providing emergency assistance to rape victims," wrote analyst Annie-Rose Strasser of ThinkProgress.com. "Florida has such a clause, which allows health care providers to deny care if it goes against their religion."

A.W. was eventually allowed to take the second pill two days after her arrest, and fortunately, the rape did not result in pregnancy—but the whole situation speaks to the danger of allowing religion to encroach on the rights of citizens to deal their own conception/contraception situations.