Religious conservatives: All women should be pregnant! Oh, except you

Calif. fertility doctors refuse to inseminate an unmarried lesbian.

Published December 7, 2005 5:03PM (EST)

Damned if you don't, damned if you do. If you don't want to get pregnant, they can refuse your Plan B. If you do want to get pregnant, they can refuse to inseminate you -- also on "religious" grounds.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a three-judge panel of a California state appeals court last Friday unanimously defended the right of two fertility doctors to refuse to perform an artificial insemination on a lesbian ... because she's not married. The physicians, employees of the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group, say they refused the treatment for religious reasons. The doctors argue that their objection was to her marital status, not her sexual orientation. Right, because that makes it OK.

Actually, as far as the court is concerned, it does. The woman in question, Guadalupe Benitez -- who has since gone to a clinic outside her insurance network and given birth to a son -- says she was told by Dr. Christine Brody on her first visit to North Coast that Brody would not perform an insemination because Benitez is a lesbian. Benitez sued Brody, an additional doctor and the clinic itself, citing the Unruh Act, the California civil rights law that bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. The law makes no explicit mention of marital status.

At this point the doctors said, "Did we say 'lesbian'? We meant 'unmarried.'"

(The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in another case that lawsuits may be filed on the basis of marital-status discrimination. But the court panel dismissed that precedent on the grounds that that decision came down after Benitez had sued.)

In essence, the court's decision states that the doctors should be allowed to raise the defense that their religious objections are based on her marital status. The decision was "certified for publication," which means it stands as precedent in state courts.

Not surprisingly, Benitez's lawyer, Lambda Legal Defense attorney Jennifer Pizer -- who said it'll appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court -- deplored this legal hairsplitting. "We fear this decision is going to worsen the confusion in the minds of the public about whether you can legally discriminate in the name of religion," she told the Los Angeles Times. "The bottom line is that you should not be able to treat patients in a discriminatory way."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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