Appeals Court To Hear Hopeful Mothers Case Against Health Care Providers That Refused Infertility Services Because Shes a Lesbian
(San Diego, February 7, 2003) - A state appeals court will hear arguments Monday in the case of a San Diego woman whose health care providers refused medical treatment to her because she is a lesbian. Lambda Legal is asking the court to overturn a ruling from last year that said Guadalupe Benitez’s health care providers acted lawfully when, citing doctors’ personal religious beliefs about gay people, they refused to provide infertility treatment to her so she and her life partner could start a family.
“After providing infertility treatment to Guadalupe for nearly a year, the health care provider refused services when Guadalupe was in the very short, critical window of time for insemination,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office. “She was shocked and felt utterly betrayed, and had no choice but to go outside of her health plan to find another doctor, costing her several thousand dollars.”
In the summer of 2000, the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group and doctors Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton refused to inseminate Benitez. She had received 11 months of treatment from the clinic - but at the critical and brief moment when she needed to be inseminated, both Brody and Fenton said that because of their personal religious beliefs about gay people, they would not administer the procedure. No other doctors within the medical group were available or willing to perform this insemination procedure, so Benitez was forced to go outside of her health plan to receive services.
“Guadalupe’s doctors are entitled to hold any personal religious belief they choose,” Pizer said. “But health care providers do not have the right to refuse medically appropriate treatment to a patient based on what they claim are personal religious beliefs about particular groups of people. Health care providers are legally and ethically obligated to provide treatment based on a patient’s medical condition, not her identity.”
Guadalupe Benitez sued the Medical Group based on a California law outlawing discrimination by business establishments, including health care facilities, along with other legal claims. The trial court in San Diego dismissed her entire case, ruling that a federal law regulating employee benefits plans bars a state civil rights claim against doctors whenever the doctors’ services are paid for through an employer-provided health plan. This appears to be the first case applying the California civil rights law against anti-gay discrimination in heath care, and the first case in which doctors have claimed they have no state civil rights liability because of the federal law.
“These health care providers weren’t being asked to provide unusual services to Guadalupe - this is a core part of their job,” said Benitez’s private attorney, Albert Gross of Solana Beach, California. “People have a right to choose to start families, and providers who offer these services to the public don’t get to pick and choose who can be a family,” Gross added.
North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group was the only Ob/Gyn provider available to Benitez through her employer’s health care plan. Since North Coast refused to provide the standard procedure she was seeking, she was forced to find another provider that was not in her health care plan. In addition to the trauma of being “dumped” as a patient due to her sexual orientation, Benitez had to pay thousands of dollars to secure the treatment she needed. A year later, Benitez and her partner, Joanne Clark, welcomed a baby boy into their family.
Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Benitez, which was authored by Pizer and cooperating attorneys Lisa Simonetti and Heather McConnell, of Stroock and Stroock and Lavan in Los Angeles.
What: Oral Arguments in Guadalupe Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group
When: Monday, February 10; 1:30 p.m.
Where: California Court of Appeal, 4th District, 750 “B” Street, Suite 500, San Diego
Contact: Fred Shank, 212/809-8585 ext. 267; Jennifer Pizer, 213/382-7600 ext. 223 or 213/590-5903 (mobile)