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Medical group
reconsiders support for antigay doctors

Medical group
reconsiders support for antigay doctors

The California Medical Association may withdraw an appellate court brief supporting doctors' rights to refuse treatment to gays and lesbians based on religious beliefs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In the case of Guadalupe Benitez, a Southern California lesbian seeking artificial insemination, the doctors argued in court documents that they should not have to treat her because inseminating an unmarried woman contradicted their religious convictions.

The 30,000-member association, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in May, softened its stance when its leaders learned Friday that a doctor in the case had said under oath that she would not inseminate "a gay couple," said Peter Warren, the association spokesman. "We're reexamining [our brief] based on additional facts that came to light," Warren told the Chronicle. "The important thing is for us to make the right decision here and determine whether to be involved in the case."

The medical association's executive committee will discuss the issue at a meeting on Monday in Sacramento, he said. In its brief the association argued that the doctors should be allowed to argue in court that they had a right to refuse to treat some patients based on a personal religious conviction. Until this week, California's Unruh Act did not prohibit discrimination on the basis of marital status. On Monday the California supreme court ruled in a separate case that the Unruh Act, cited by attorneys in Benitez's case, protects registered domestic partners from discrimination.

Benitez and her partner are registered domestic partners. Benitez's lawyer said Monday's ruling will make it more difficult for the doctors to argue that their refusal to inseminate Benitez was protected by their right to religious freedom. "This is yet one more reason why this argument is a nonstarter," said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for the Western regional office of Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group.

An attorney for the doctors said Monday's ruling does not address constitutional claims that compete against the Unruh Act, such as freedom of religion. "It's a very interesting development, but it doesn't address this whole case or make it one way or the other," said Gabriele Prater.

The California Medical Association said it was not taking a position on the doctors' motivation for refusing treatment. But in its initial and supplemental briefs filed in San Diego, the association argued that doctors treating Benitez had the legal right to refuse her treatment on religious grounds if they did so because she was unmarried.

Association leaders now say they were unaware of a November 2001 declaration that is part of the court record in which Christine Brody, Benitez's physician at the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group in Vista, located in San Diego County, cited Benitez's sexual orientation as grounds for her refusal to treat her. "I specifically informed Ms. Benitez on the initial visit that if her fertility treatment progressed to the point where intrauterine insemination was the next recommended step, it was against my religious beliefs to actually perform [the procedure] for a gay couple," Brody said.

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