Woman Allowed to Sue Over Conscience Clause

A federal court ruled this week that a Florida woman could sue her local Sheriff’s department because, after being raped, the woman was denied the second dosage of the morning after pill by a prison guard who objected to it. The woman, identified only as R.W., sought help at a clinic after being raped and was prescribed the pill as a precaution. When the police investigated the rape, they discovered an unrelated warrant for R.W.’s arrest and took her into custody. R.W. was then denied the second pill by a prison guard, Michele Spinelli, who said the pill violated her religious beliefs. Florida has a religious conscience clause, which allows health providers to deny certain treatments or procedures if they have moral objections.

US District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich had ruled in March that the sheriff was improperly named as a defendant, but yesterday, in response to a revised complaint, she ruled that the Sheriff, David Gee, could be sued. She wrote, “Gee, as the representative of the municipality, promulgated no policy on anticonceptive medication and provided no guidance or supervision to Spinelli on the matter. Given that some entity must set policy for the government in each situation, plaintiff has rendered plausible the claim that Spinelli was designated the final policy-maker with respect to her decision to withhold anti-conceptive medication for religious reasons.”

Besides Florida, Maine and Tennessee also have refusal measures. Most recently, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a state law in May establishing a conscience clause in the state. This law specifically allows pharmacists to deny medication that they object to. Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Dakota also have laws that apply to pharmacists.

Huffington Post 6/27/12; Raw Story 6/26/12; Courthouse News Service 6/25/12; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/15/12

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