California Supreme Court Hears Case on Doctors’ Denial of Treatment
On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that centers on physicians asserting their right to deny medical services to specific patients based on the physicians' religious views, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
In 1999, Guadalupe Benitez, a lesbian, was being treated with infertility drugs at the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group in Vista. When Benitez did not get pregnant, two physicians at the clinic refused to artificially inseminate her because of their religious objections to her sexual orientation.
Benitez sued under state civil rights laws (Mintz, San Jose Mercury News, 5/29).
A San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the doctors could not assert their religious beliefs as a defense against Benitez's charges. A state appeals court overturned that decision, which prompted the Supreme Court to hear the case (Moran, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/29).
Lawyers for the physicians argued that forcing physicians to provide treatments that conflict with their religious views would be in violation of religious freedoms (San Jose Mercury News, 5/29).
Kenneth Pedroza, an attorney for the doctors, said that physicians do not violate California's antidiscrimination law so long as they accommodate patients by referring them to other physicians willing to provide the service or an alternative treatment (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/29).
Jennifer Pizer, Benitez's lawyer, argued that the law does not require physicians to perform procedures they object to but that it does require doctors to treat all patients equally.
Chief Justice Ronald George said the issue is not about whether physicians could refuse to perform a procedure at all, but whether certain patients could be deprived a treatment that others receive (Dolan, Los Angeles Times, 5/29).
Justice Marvin Baxter, one of the court's most conservative members, said if physicians can choose which patients to treat based on religious views, then patients in rural areas with fewer options for providers could find problems accessing care (San Jose Mercury News, 5/29).
Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar questioned Pizer as to why the clinic's attempt to find Benitez a doctor without reservations about inseminating her was "not an accommodation of what we know is very important -- religious freedom -- and the accommodation of a person's right to be free from discrimination?"
Pizer said that scenario would translate to a segregated medical system.
The Supreme Court has 90 days to rule on the case (Leff, AP/Ventura County Star, 5/29).