By Alexa Hinton
Mon Dec 12
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.