Court: Religious Doctors May Not Deny Infertility Treatments for Lesbians

The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that doctors may not on religious grounds refuse to provide infertility treatments on account of the sexuality of the patients. According to the court, such refusal violates California antidiscrimination law. The terse, 18 page decision is here (PDF).

What happened in this case is a lesbian went to a doctor for infertility treatments after the old fashioned way failed to get her pregnant. The doctor knew that the patient was a lesbian in a long term relationship and unmarried (this was 1999), and explained that her religion would keep her from doing certain procedures if they became necessary, but that other doctors at the same practice could do them. That arrangement seemed to work okay for a year. However, when they eventually decided that those certain procedures were necessary to get the patient pregnant, the other doctors at the clinic balked and provided a referral to another doctor. She sued claiming sexual orientation discrimination.

The doctors defended in part by arguing that their rights to free speech and religious freedom under the federal and California constitutions would be infringed if the antidiscrimination law compelled them to provide treatment to lesbians. Today, the California Supreme Court disagreed, quoting a 1990 decision written by Justice Scalia which refused to grant an religious exception for ingesting peyote:

[T]he First Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion “does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a ‘valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).'” […]

Thus, under the United States Supreme Court’s most recent holdings, a religious objector has no federal constitutional right to an exemption from a neutral and valid law of general applicability on the ground that compliance with that law is contrary to the objector’s religious beliefs.

The California Constitution provided no better protection for the doctors.

The case now goes back to the trial court to examine the question of whether the doctors’ religious objection based on marital status, something not prohibited under the antidiscrimination laws eight years ago (it is now), provides a defense against the lawsuit.

In the meantime:

“The Supreme Court’s desire to promote the homosexual lifestyle at the risk of infringing upon the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is what the public needs to learn about,” said [Robert] Tyler, who leads the nonprofit Advocates for Faith and Freedom in Murrieta, Calif.

I’m doing my part.

~ by Gabriel Malor on August 18, 2008.

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