Lesbian appeals ruling regarding infertility treatments

BY Advocate.com Editors

February 12 2003 1:00 AM ET

A woman appealed a California state court ruling Monday that found that her health care providers had acted lawfully when they refused to provide infertility treatments to her so she and her lesbian partner could start a family. The case, brought by Guadalupe Benitez, is among the first in California to apply the state's civil rights law banning antigay discrimination in health care. Benitez, 31, alleges that two doctors at North Coast Women's Care Medical Group in San Diego refused to inseminate her because of their religious beliefs about homosexuality. A trial court dismissed her case, ruling that a federal law regulating employee benefits plans prohibits a state civil rights claim against doctors whenever the doctors' services are paid through an employer-provided health plan. "I don't want these people to use their medical license to discriminate," Benitez said.

Attorney Gabriele M. Prater, who represents the medical group, argued that the appellate court should also dismiss the case because she said it conflicts with federal law. But Benitez's attorney, Albert C. Gross, said Benitez deserves her day in court because the allegations are a clear violation of law. "They are not practicing medicine so much as they are arbitrary discrimination," Gross said outside the courtroom.

Benitez began 11 months of infertility treatment, a procedure covered by her health care plan, at North Coast Women's Care in 1999. One of her doctors, Christine Brody, told Benitez at the start of the treatment that her religious beliefs prevented her from helping a lesbian conceive a child by artificial insemination, but she said other physicians at the practice would be able to help her. In July 2000, Benitez was told that both Brody and another doctor, Douglas Fenton, were unable to help her because they did not feel comfortable with her sexual orientation. Benitez filed suit in 2001 in superior court in San Diego.

But the doctors have said Benitez was aware when she began her treatment that her sexual orientation was "violative of the religious beliefs of her treating physician," the doctor's attorneys said in a written statement. The statement said the two doctors referred Benitez to an affiliated doctor with the intention she return for her obstetrical care.

Benitez says that at the time she was denied treatment, the medical group was the only gynecology provider available to her through her employer's health care plan. After the doctors allegedly refused to provide the infertility treatment, Benitez said she was forced to go outside her medical plan and pay for insemination out of her own pocket. Benitez gave birth to a baby boy a year ago.

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