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Raped Woman Can Sue Guard Who Withheld Pill

(CN) - A jail guard may be liable for refusing to let an inmate who was raped take emergency contraception because "it was against her religious beliefs," a federal judge ruled.

R.W., whose full name is not disclosed in court records, says she was raped on Jan. 27, 2007. After an examination at Tampa's Rape Crisis Center, a doctor gave R.W. gave two anti-contraception pills, according to the complaint.

R.W. says she took one pill immediately and held the other to ingest 12 hours later, as directed.

While taking R.W.'s report of the crime, however, a Tampa police officer learned that there was an arrest warrant for R.W. for failure to pay restitution and failure to appear. At the Hillsborough County Jail, staff confiscated her second pill.

R.W. says she requested her second pill the next morning, but jail employee Michele Spinelli refused. "Spinelli told the Plaintifft hat Spinelli would not give her the pill because it was against her (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.

Spinelli and Gee moved to dismiss the four-count complaint, claiming R.W. failed to state a claim on all counts. Gee also said R.W. failed to identify a municipal policy that holds him liable for the actions of a contract worker like Spinelli.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich upheld the claims against Spinelli last week.

"An individual's decision to use or not to use contraception is undoubtedly among those fundamental decisions protection by the right of privacy," Kovachevich wrote.

"Defendants' argument that Spinelli's actions did not place an undue burden on plaintiff's right to terminate her pregnancy completely miss the mark," she added.

"Defendants' arguments with regard to the equal protection claims are also easily disposed of."

Ultimately, however, R.W.'s claims against Gee proved groundless.

"Plaintiff contends that Spinelli made the 'decision [to deny the contraception] as the person designated by Gee, in his official capacity as sheriff of Hillsborough County, with 'final policymaking authority' over whether to provide preciously prescribed contraceptive medication to inmates at the Orient Road jail,'" the 10-page decision states. "This court must, however, disregard such unadorned legal conclusions, leaving plaintiff with nothing at all upon which to base liability against Gee."

"There are no facts of any sort set forth in the complaint that would support any actual damages at all," Kovachevich added.

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