A lesbian woman will challenge an appeals court ruling that permitted two doctors to claim a religious defense in their refusal to artificially inseminate her.
A California appeals court last week sided with the doctors, Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton, saying they can claim religious liberty in refusing to treat a patient who was gay because it was against their Christian beliefs.
Guadalupe Benitez filed a sexual-orientation discrimination suit against the doctors at a San Diego women's clinic after they refused to artificially inseminate her in 2000.
Benitez claims that on her first visit, Brody informed her that while her religious principles precluded her from performing the procedure on a gay woman, another doctor in the clinic would.
Benitez says, however, that after 11 months of costly, painful tests and surgeries, when the time came for the insemination procedure, she was turned down and told that she "would not be treated fairly" or "get timely care" at the clinic because of Dr. Brody's and other staff members' religious beliefs.
The doctors' lawyer, Carlo Coppo, said his clients were committed to fair treatment of Benitez — from fertilization to pregnancy and birth — but that aiding the actual act of conception compromised their religious views.
"[Brody] believes that participating in the [fertilization procedure], she is acting as the male," Coppo said. "It is an elective, invasive procedure, and to be there for the moment of conception, she religiously can't participate."
Benitez's attorney, Jennifer Pizer, said the appeals court ruling was troubling because it opened the door to all kinds of discrimination.
"It certainly is a social problem and a legal problem if someone enters a commercial business and can be told they will not receive the same services that another person can," Pizer said.
Both attorneys agree the case is the first of its kind and tests whether a doctor can choose who to treat based on religious beliefs.
Coppo says denying doctors their religious rights is also a form of discrimination, and that the law allows doctors to choose who they treat consistent with their religious convictions as long as they offer alternative means for care.
Pizer says a doctor's religious freedoms should not come at the expense of a patient's care.
When the case goes to trial, a jury will also be asked to decide if Benitez was denied the fertilization procedure because of her sexual orientation or her marital status.
In 2000, California's Unruh Civil Rights Law protected sexual orientation from discrimination by businesses, but not marital status.
Coppo said Benitez's marital status was the issue — as lesbians, she and her domestic partner are not legally married. Pizer, however, said sexual orientation was always the factor and the defendants' language in court documents will prove that.
Few of you may have heard of Jason Robbins and the legal nightmare into which he has been plunged by individuals and institutions intent on undermining his tireless activism on behalf of queer rights and reproductive freedom. Fewer of you know that Jason is facing over thirty years in prison for the sole crime of being present at a peaceful demonstration against a notorious anti-queer, anti-woman hate group, and even fewer of you know why. Nevertheless, it is not only Jason's freedom at stake in his upcoming trial, but yours and ours as well.
Jason was arrested in East Pikeland Township outside of Philadelphia, on Sunday, December 4th, while sitting in a vehicle near the scene of a peaceful demonstration. Members of Philadelphia Anti-Racist Action and other organizations were protesting the activities of Repent America, a radical evangelical Christian organization that travels to queer pride events and reproductive health clinics with the sole purpose of harassing and intimidating individuals that they perceive to be queer, or women they believe to be considering abortion. Repent America has been linked to the White Rose Society, which openly advocates the bombing of abortion clinics and the murder of doctors who perform the procedure.
The demonstration was held on the sidewalk outside the home of Randy and Linda Beckman, two organizers with Repent America. Both have participated in Repent America's campaign of harassment and intimidation, and Mr. Beckman has, on at least one occasion, threatened attendees at queer pride events with physical violence. Nevertheless, the protest was entirely peaceful, and consisted primarily of attendees chanting on the sidewalk while displaying simple, homemade banners.
The peaceful mood quickly changed when East Pikeland Township Police arrived on the scene and ordered Jason to provide ID and exit the vehicle in which he had been sitting. Jason, who had committed no crime, refused to identify himself and was immediately removed from the vehicle by force. Jason was violently thrown to the ground, injuring his knee to the extent that he needed to be hospitalized. Once off the ground, Jason was roughly slammed into the side of the vehicle he was sitting in. In a complete overreaction by local authorities, three additional police departments East Vincent, West Vincent and Phoenixville also responded to the scene. Officers wasted no time in verbally harassing and even threatening with violence the peaceful demonstrators. Two participants were also taken into custody and later cited. They are facing two summary offenses, with fines upwards of $800. The police however, have decided to make an example of Jason by launching a campaign of lies and intimidation. Jason was first taken by ambulance to the Phoenixville Hospital for injuries sustained during the arrest before being incarcerated in Chester County Prison for approximately 100 hours before his bail was posted on Thursday December 8th. .
Perhaps in an attempt to make Jason's injuries appear to have been necessary, rather than being caused by a completely unjustified use of force, Jason is being charged with a slew of crimes, including aggravated assault, simple assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and reckless endangerment. The assault charge is a second-degree felony. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum jail sentence of over thirty years in prison all for being in the vicinity of a peaceful demonstration. Although police at Jason's arraignment completely contradicted their original version of events, the judge in the case ruled that Jason's trial would go forward.
The charges against Jason Robbins clearly constitute an attempt by the East Pikeland Township Police to stifle even the most peaceful forms of dissent against the vitriolic hate speech and incitement to violence of organizations like Repent America. A demonstration identical to the one at which Jason was arrested was carried out earlier in the day in the neighboring town of Collegeville, and although police were present at the scene, they responded professionally, no arrests were made, and the demonstration ended as peacefully as it had begun. One can only speculate as to the reason for the incredible disparity in the police response between the two jurisdictions to what was essentially an identical situation. Regardless, all who disagree with the beliefs and actions of Repent America and similar hate groups are being sent the message that dissent will not be tolerated, and even peaceful protest will be met with violence and false imprisonment.
Jason's legal costs are expected to exceed $25,000, all of which must be raised within the next sixteen days according to his attorney, Robert J. Donatoni. As Jason himself is of limited financial means, he is dependent on community support to prove his innocence and avoid spending the next thirty years of his life behind bars.
It's time to return the solidarity that Jason and others like him have shown to the queer and pro-choice communities. Anyone who is able to make even a small contribution to Jason's defense is urged to do so immediately. Every dollar - and every day - counts.
Anyone able to contribute is urged to contact Jason's support committee at email@example.com or contact Jason directly by phone at 215-760-2104. You can also Paypal money directly to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please email Jason's support committee once you make the Paypal transfer so we can make sure it is received.
Please contribute whatever you can, and forward this appeal to your friends. Jason's freedom and your own is in your hands. Thank You.