Legal Wrap: Steubenville Rape Culture and Corporations as ‘Vessels’ of Faith


Legal Wrap is a weekly round-up of key legal reproductive rights and justice news.

On Sunday, a juvenile court found two teenage boys guilty in the Steubenville High School gang rape trial. Our coverage and reaction to the verdict will continue this week, but from the beginning of the trial it was clear the main line of defense would be a combination of victim-blaming and slut-shaming. And while thankfully that line of defense didn’t sway the judge, sadly it appears to have been very effective in swaying media commentary over the trial.

Almost two-and-a-half years ago prosecutors charged Bei Bei Shuai with feticide in connection with her failed suicide attempt while pregnant. As Robin Marty reported, Shuai is still waiting for trial as prosecutors scramble to produce evidence to justify the charge.

A federal judge blocked the Obama administration’s birth control benefit from applying to the for-profit real estate management company Domino’s Farms in another opinion that blurs the lines between the secular and religious. In the opinion, the court suggests that because Domino’s Farms is owned solely by Tom Monaghan, it is reasonable to view the business as simply a “vessel” by which Monaghan expresses his religious faith.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, a federal judge has again rejected efforts by anti-choice activist Angel Dillard to shield communications she had with Scott Roeder, the man convicted of murdering abortion provider Dr. George Tiller at Tiller’s church. Dillard faces charges by the Department of Justice that she threatened Dr. Mila Means, who was training to offer abortions after Tiller’s murder. Dillard has argued those communications are protected because she was acting as a minister to Roeder, who was already in prison for Tiller’s murder. The court disagreed and said that even if Dillard’s jail visits to Roeder were part of a ministry performed by Dillard’s church, Dillard herself is not an ordained minister and therefore any communications between she and Roeder are fair game.

A Florida federal district court upheld the constitutionality of a Florida anti-picketing ordinance that bars picketing or protests within 50 feet of any dwelling. The law was passed after the president of Orlando’s Planned Parenthood complained about loud anti-choice protesters who were picketing, shouting at neighbors, and carrying graphic signs in front of her house. Anti-choice protesters sued to block the ordinance, but the court said that because the law was content-neutral, the city was within reason in passing a law that protected residential areas from such disturbances.

In Missouri, a federal district court overturned a law that required Missouri insurers to issue health insurance policies without contraception coverage if individuals or employers objected to providing that coverage because of religious or moral beliefs. The law was passed in direct opposition to the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig had issued a temporary restraining order against the law in December, and this ruling now permanently bars the law from going into effect.

It’s no coincidence that there’s been a significant uptick in anti-choice laws proposed and passed at the state level since 2010. In places like Wisconsin, Republican gerrymandering efforts went a long way toward creating entrenched and deeply conservative districts, which in turn elected representatives responsible for the new wave of restrictions, showing that even redistricting is a reproductive justice issue.

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Jessica Mason Pieklo on twitter: @hegemommy