Religious liberty at issue in insemination case involving unmarried woman

Calif. appeals court to unmarried patient: Do doctors have no right of conscience?
Tuesday, February 01, 2005

SAN DIEGO—Responding to an emergency writ filed by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, a California appeals court Thursday asked an unmarried woman suing a medical clinic to explain why doctors cannot refuse to perform a medical procedure for religious reasons.

The woman is suing her doctors for referring her to another qualified physician instead of performing the insemination themselves.  A lower court ruled on Nov. 1 of last year that California civil rights laws make no provision for the doctors to have a right of conscience in such a situation.

“The courts most certainly have a constitutional duty to respect the religious convictions of these doctors,” said ADF attorney Robert Tyler.  “Therefore we asked the California Court of Appeals to instruct the trial court to allow our clients the right to a religious liberty defense.  Now the appeals court is asking the woman who filed this suit to explain why the doctors should be denied their religious liberty.”

The lawsuit, Guadalupe T. Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, Inc., et al., was originally filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego on Dec. 7, 2001.  The suit claims that doctors at North Coast discriminated against Benitez because she is a lesbian.  Attorneys with Lambda Legal are among the lawyers representing Benitez.  ADF joined the Carlsbad law firm DiCaro, Coppo & Popcke in defense of the doctors.

“Other doctors are available who will perform the procedure; therefore, this lawsuit merely attempts to force our clients to act in a fashion contrary to their own sincerely held religious beliefs, and that’s unconstitutional,” Tyler explained.  “Religious liberty is our first liberty, and doctors should not be forced into involuntary servitude.”

One of the two doctors being sued at North Coast referred Benitez to an outside physician who eventually performed a successful in vitro fertilization procedure that resulted in pregnancy.  The two doctors have a policy against performing the procedure themselves on unmarried women; however, they agreed to provide all of the pre- and post-natal care as well as absorb any of the costs Benitez incurred as a result of the referral.  Benitez filed suit against North Coast six months after becoming pregnant.

“Our First Amendment protects the right of conscience,” Tyler said.  “The right to religious freedom is one of the most vital rights Americans have under the Constitution.”

Thursday’s order by the California Court of Appeals for the 4th District, Division One, can be read here.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.