SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Doctors’ religious beliefs do not trump patients’ civil rights, the California Supreme Court ruled, concluding that physicians cannot deny fertility services to a lesbian patient based on their religious beliefs.
Dr. Douglas Fenton of North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group told Guadalupe Benitez and her partner that he would not prepare donated sperm for intrauterine insemination because it was against his religion. His colleague, Dr. Christine Brody, said she would not perform the procedure on any unmarried woman, although Benitez and her partner say Brody objected to their sexual orientation.
Justice Kennard said doctors’ First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion does not trump their obligation to comply with “a valid and neutral law of general applicability.”
A state appeals court reversed judgment for the plaintiffs, however, because it said the doctors should be allowed to present evidence that their denial of service was based on marital status.
The high court backed the trial court’s decision, saying it “simply narrowed the issues in this case by disposing of defendants’ contention that their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion exempt them from complying with Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Marvin Baxter said he agreed with the concept of full and equal access to medical treatment, but does “not necessarily believe the state has a compelling interest in eradicating every difference in treatment based on sexual orientation.”