Tuesday, August 19, 2008
S.C. Reverses Ruling in Lesbian Artificial Insemination Case
Religious Beliefs Held No Reason for Doctors to Refuse to Perform Procedure
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Guarantees of free speech and religious freedom in the state and federal constitutions do not permit doctors to refuse to artificially inseminate a patient because she is a lesbian, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
Justice Joyce Kennard wrote that two Christian fertility doctors who refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian have neither a free speech right nor a religious exemption from the state’s law, which “imposes on business establishments certain antidiscrimination obligations.”
In the lawsuit that led to the ruling, Guadalupe Benitez, 36, of Oceanside said that the doctors treated her with fertility drugs and instructed her how to inseminate herself at home but told her their beliefs prevented them from inseminating her. One of the doctors referred her to another fertility specialist without moral objections, and Benitez has since given birth to three children.
North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group., located in Vista, was, at the time Benitez went there, the sole provider of obstetric and gynecological services in Northern San Diego County for members of Benitez’s employee health plan.
Benitez alleged in her complaint that she had been through 11 months of infertility treatments at North Coast, and was preparing to undergo artificial insemination there. She said she told her doctor, Christine Z. Brody, that she was a lesbian.
Brody, according to the complaint, told Benitez she was willing to continue overseeing her treatments, but would not perform the insemination procedure because she had a religious objection to impregnating a lesbian.
Benitez alleged that she agreed to this arrangement, although she was upset by it, but that when the time to perform the procedure approached, she was told that no one at North Coast would do it. She was eventually referred to an out-of-plan physician, she said, at a cost of several thousand dollars.
The insemination procedure was unsuccessful. Benitez later had a child through in vitro fertilization.
Benitez in 2001 sued North Coast. She and her lawyers successfully argued that the Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibiting businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation applies to doctors.
Legislation enacted in 2005, long after the events involved in Benitez’s suit took place, added sexual orientation and marital status to the types of discrimination expressly prohibited by the act. Prior Court of Appeal decisions had applied the act to sexual orientation bias, but not to discrimination based on marital status.
In Benitez’s case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One ruled that discrimination on the grounds of marital status did not violate the Unruh Act at the time of the events in question; that a triable issue existed as to whether the doctors refused to perform intrauterine insemination on Benitez because she was a lesbian or because she was unmarried, and that the doctors may introduce evidence of their religious and moral beliefs in order to prove that they would not have performed the procedure on any unmarried woman.
The high court yesterday agreed that on remand, the doctors can avoid liability if they can prove that they refused to artificially inseminate Benitez because she was unmarried, not because she was a lesbian. But the doctors’ religious beliefs are irrelevant, because they were not forced to choose between violating those beliefs and obeying the law, Kennard said.
The defendants, she explained, “can simply refuse to perform the IUI medical procedure at issue here for any patient of North Coast.... Or, because they incur liability under the Act if they infringe upon the right to the ‘full and equal’ services of North Coast’s medical practice....defendant physicians can avoid such a conflict by ensuring that every patient requiring IUI receives ‘full and equal’ access to that medical procedure though a North Coast physician lacking defendants’ religious objections.”
Justice Marvin Baxter, in a separate concurrence, said he agreed with the majority’s “narrow” holding, in contrast with last month’s ruling on same-sex marriage, from which he dissented.
“I do not necessarily believe the state has a compelling interest in eradicating every difference in treatment based on sexual orientation....However, I agree that California has a compelling interest, furthered by the Unruh Civil Rights Act, ‘in ensuring full and equal access to medical treatment irrespective of sexual orientation,’ including a right to full medical assistance in establishing a pregnancy.”
North Coast put her through “an awful thing,” Benitez said. “It was very painful — the fact that you have someone telling you they will not help you because of who you are, that they will deny your right to be a mother and have a family.”
Benitez has three children—Gabriel, 6, and twin daughters, Sophia and Shane, who turn 3 this weekend. She is raising them in Oceanside with her longtime partner, Joanne Clark.
Jennifer Pizer, Benitez’s attorney, said that the ruling was “a victory for public health” and that she expected it to have nationwide influence.
“It was clear and emphatic that discrimination has no place in doctors’ offices,” Pizer said.
Robert Tyler, one of the lawyers for the clinic, said the ruling advanced the Supreme Court’s “radical agenda” and would help the campaign supporting a November ballot initiative that seeks to once again ban gay marriage in California.
“The Supreme Court’s desire to promote the homosexual lifestyle at the risk of infringing upon the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is what the public needs to learn about,” said Tyler, who leads the nonprofit Advocates for Faith and Freedom in Murrieta, Calif.
The case drew numerous friends of the court briefs from a wide variety of religious organizations, medical groups and gay civil rights organizations.
The American Civil Rights Union supported the Christian doctors, siding with the Islamic Medical Association of North America, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations and anti-abortion groups.
The California Medical Association reversed its early support of the defendants, which had been limited to the issue of whether the 2005 amendments could be applied to their conduct, after receiving a barrage of criticism from gay rights activists and others. The association’s lawyer told the MetNews at the time that it acted so as to dispel suggestions that it had abandoned its long-held opposition to discrimination based on sexual orientation
The American Civil Liberties Union, Attorney General Jerry Brown, the National Health Law Program and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association filed amicus briefs backing Benitez.
The case is North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, Inc. v. Superior Court (Benitez). 08 S.O.S. 5014.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company