California Supreme Court Weighs Lambda Legal Lawsuit on Behalf of Lesbian Denied Infertility Treatment Because of Doctors Religious Beliefs
(San Francisco, September 20, 2006) — Lambda Legal submitted its opening brief today in the California Supreme Court seeking to reinstate a trial court decision that doctors must treat their lesbian patients like the rest of their patients, regardless of the doctors’ religious beliefs about gay people.
“Doctors with antigay religious beliefs are not excused from obeying the laws that govern all of us,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal based in the organization’s Western Regional Office. “That our client’s doctors felt that they could defy well-established California law and medical ethics is very worrisome for all of us in a civil society.”
Lambda Legal represents Guadalupe “Lupita” Benitez who was denied infertility treatment by her San Diego County health care providers because she is a lesbian. The doctors claim a right not to comply with California’s civil rights law because they are fundamentalist Christians and they object to treating a lesbian patient the same way they treat other patients.
The case arose after Benitez and her partner decided to have a child. Because Benitez suffered from a common gynecological condition, the couple sought help from the only ob-gyn provider available through Benitez’s employer-provided health plan: the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group. For nearly a year, the clinic and Dr. Christine Brody prescribed fertility medications and performed various tests on Benitez, but continually delayed performing the simple insemination procedure that Benitez needed. After 11 months of accepting payment for her care and Dr. Brody repeatedly promising to perform the procedure, North Coast’s medical director, Dr. Douglas Fenton, admitted that Benitez would never receive it because of the personal religious beliefs about gay people held by numerous members of the clinic’s staff.
“For nearly a year, my doctors accepted my insurance company’s payments and my co-payments and they strung me along with the promise that they would help me become pregnant,” Benitez said. “I was in my doctors’ care for their medical assistance, not for their religious judgments.”
Benitez’s lawsuit was thrown out of state court initially, but she won an appeal three years ago that said that patients can sue health care providers who discriminate based on their sexual orientation, and federal law does not exempt health care providers from state civil rights laws. In late 2004, Benitez won a legal ruling in the trial court saying that doctors in a for-profit medical group must comply with California’s antidiscrimination laws and treat all patients equally, whatever the doctors’ personal religious beliefs may be. The doctors asked the court of appeal in San Diego to review that ruling and the court ruled in the doctors’ favor. Lambda Legal appealed that decision to the California Supreme Court where the case is today.
Jennifer C. Pizer is the lead attorney on the case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Jon B. Eisenberg of Eisenberg & Hancock, LLP; Robert Welsh, Seph McNamara and Lee Fink of O’Melveny & Myers LLP in Los Angeles; and Albert Gross of Solana Beach, CA.
The Case is Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group.
Mark Roy 212-809-8585 ext. 267
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.