CA Case Threatens Religious Rights

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California's Supreme Court will soon decide whether doctors have the right to refuse services based on their religious beliefs.

Lesbian Guadalupe Benitez sued two Christian doctors in San Diego eight years ago because she believes they discriminated against by refusing to artificially inseminate her.

Benitez sued the North Coast Women's Medical Group after Dr. Doug Fenton and Dr. Christine Brody refused to help her get pregnant because of their beliefs.

Benitez won, but the ruling was reversed by an appeals court.

"If a doctor in good conscience can't provide good medical care, that doctor should not be in that field," she said. "If a person isn't willing to provide the care the person needs, they shouldn't be wearing the lab coat."

In the High Court's Hands

Now the case is in the hands of the California Supreme Court.

With the court's recent landmark ruling giving gay couples in the state the right to marry, some civil rights groups are concerned over how the California justices could be leaning in this case.

"You're telling me that freedom of religion should trump statutory regulations?" Justice Carol A. Corrigan asked Wednesday during oral arguments.

Corrigan made comparisons to racism and other discriminations, asking if it were fair to tell a patient "I am not going to do it for you because of who you are."

"I don't think you give up religion because it results in hard decisions," she said. "Seems to me we have a business decision, not a religious one."

But attorneys for the doctors say the couples claim that the physicians had a duty to inseminate would be more convincing if the disputed procedure were a lifesaving measure instead of an elective one.

"Here, the doctors are being asked to create life," Attorney Robert Tyler said. "Why shouldn't they be allowed to let their faith be an important part of their decision-making?

Matters of Conscience

Benitez and her partner of 18 years now have three children by in-vitro fertilization. The couple says they spent thousands of dollars seeing doctors outside of those covered by their insurance.

She said they felt "dumped" after the North Coast facility, which is within their insurance network, "promised" to provide them with services and did not.

North Coast does perform artificial insemination for other women, but Dr. Brody said she makes it very clear she does not perform the procedure on single women.

Tyler says both doctors tried to help Benitez as much as they could. They even offered to pay the extra costs she might incur by going back to a fertility specialist.

Many believe a ruling in favor of Benitez would be dangerous.

"If you have a genuine moral issue raised, as in this case, you have to recognize the rights of both parties," Peter Ferrara, general counsel for the American Civil Rights Union, said.

Ferrara filed a friend-in-court brief in support of Dr. Fenton and Dr. Brody.

He added that requiring doctors to act in violation of their beliefs "is a discriminatory resolution, and it discriminates against Christians."

The ruling has the potential to affect similar cases involving "conscience clauses," which give doctors the right to refuse abortions and the sell of birth control.

Sources: ABC News, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times

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