California Supreme Court Hears Case of Lambda Legal Lesbian Client Denied Infertility Treatment by Christian Fundamentalist Doctors

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"What happened to me is something that could happen to any person at any time.???
May 28, 2008

(San Francisco, May 28, 2008) — The California Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in the case of an Oceanside lesbian, Guadalupe "Lupita" Benítez, whose doctors denied her a standard infertility treatment based on their religious beliefs about gay people.
 
Today's hearing before the Supreme Court represents the latest development in a case that began in 1999, when Benítez's personal physician referred her to North Coast Women's Care Medical Group for infertility care, which had an exclusive contract with Benitez's insurance plan.  After eleven months of preparatory treatments, including medication and unnecessary surgery, her doctors finally admitted they would not perform donor insemination for her because she is a lesbian. The doctors claim a right to opt out of 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.

"Religious freedom does not place anyone beyond the law, especially when violating the law hurts other people," said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal who argued for Benitez in the Supreme Court.  "Lesbians and gay men have been legally guaranteed equal access to commercial and professional businesses for many years. Unfortunately, they all too often still encounter discrimination despite the law, often from individuals who mistakenly believe that freedom of religious belief and worship means freedom to engage in illegal behavior."

In late 2004, Benítez 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; in other words, if they provide a treatment to some patients, they must provide it equally to all patients based on medical standards, without discriminating. The doctors asked the Court of Appeal in San Diego to review that ruling and that court ruled in the doctors' favor.  The California Supreme Court then granted review.

"What happened to me is something that could happen to any person at any time," said Benítez.  "Patients should be able to trust that when they go to a doctor, they'll receive appropriate medical care without having to run an obstacle course thrown up by doctors who only want to treat some patients, and not others."

Jennifer C. Pizer is the lead attorney on the case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Jon B. Eisenberg, a leading appellate specialist, 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.

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Contact: Jason Howe 213-382-7600 ext.247; Email: jhowe@lambdalegal.org

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