Doctors do not have a religious-freedom right to refuse treatment to a patient because of sexual orientation, the California Supreme Court ruled today.
In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that a Southern California fertility clinic could not deny a lesbian couple artificial insemination services if its doctors refused to perform the procedure on religious grounds based on the couple's sexual orientation.
Guadalupe Benitez, a resident of Oceanside, north of San Diego, sued the North Coast Women's Medical Group and two of its doctors for refusing to give her fertility treatments in 2000.
Benitez, now 36, contended that the physicians objected to treating a lesbian patient because of their Christian beliefs.
The doctors claimed that their religious beliefs precluded them from performing the procedure on any unmarried woman, and not because of Benitez's sexual orientation.
Benitez eventually went to doctors outside her insurance plan and she and her partner became the parents of a 6-year-old boy and 2-year-old twins. But she claimed the first two doctors' refusal to provide artificial insemination caused her emotional distress and cost her thousands of extra dollars.
The court said today that clinics could ensure “full and equal” access by assigning the procedure to another clinic physician who did not have the same religious objections.
In a statement issued after the ruling, Benitez's lawyer Jennifer Pizer said, “There's a great diversity of religious beliefs in California, and they're all protected – but not to the point where laws are violated and other people are hurt.”
“Each of us is protected both in our religious beliefs and also from religiously based discrimination in the doctor's office and other commercial settings,” she said.
A lawyer for the clinic and the doctors was not immediately available for comment. — Bay City News