Doctors Deny Lesbians Insemination on Moral Grounds

"Ethics and law does not have to see eye to eye," Subramanian said. "But if there is a conflict between the law and whatever the moral or ethical beliefs are, the doctor has got the choice to either abide by the law... or they'll say, 'I understand the law but my ethical, moral and religious beliefs are such that I'm going to stand firm, even if that means I have to go to jail.'"

Legal Issues for Service Providers

But some argue that service providers, particularly those in the medical field, have a duty to avoid such conflict.

"If people choose to go into a particular field of medicine, practice medicine according to the standards of care of that field and in accordance with applicable civil rights laws," said Jennifer Pizer, Benitez's attorney at Lambda Legal, an advocacy group for same-sex rights.

Benitez's case is another example of an issue that clashes repeatedly with some religious or moral beliefs -- doctors who do not perform abortions, for example, or pharmacies that do not stock prophylactics or dispense birth control or Plan B pills for use after unprotected sex.

Illegal Medical Actions

Had Benitez and Clark been turned away from the North Coast Women's Care clinic, Pizer said the doctors would have committed a civil rights violation for denying care based on their opinion that same-sex couples should not be parents.

"It would not have been legal to turn her away at the first visit," Pizer said. "This was compounded and made much worse by the doctors' repeated promises that [Guadalupe] would receive the treatment she needed. It was a long series of broken promises."

In fact, abandoning a patient in the middle of ongoing care is a far more egregious error in the medical community compared to voicing personal reservations about treatment and then referring a patient to another doctor.

"You cannot have somebody you are taking care of and in the middle of it, not give infertility treatment unless you told the patient clearly and specifically before you take them on as a patient that their [treatment] will not go beyond a certain point," Subramanian said. "As long as you've got a license, you have an obligation and that supersedes moral grounds."

Upon settlement, the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group released a joint statement with Benitez and Clark, saying that "the defendants are sincerely sorry that Ms. Benitez and Ms. Clark have felt [treated differently due to sexual orientation], and have never meant to treat Ms. Benitez with disrespect. Defendants want all of their patients, including those who are lesbian and gay, to feel welcome and accepted in their medical practice, and are committed to treating all of their patients with equal dignity and respect in the context of the highest quality medical care."

Since Benitez and Clark sued North Coast Women's Care Medical Group, they have had three children with help from doctors at a different clinic. Pizer said she believes the doctors at the North Coast Women's Care clinic have understood the need to reconcile their religious views with applicable laws as well as their commitment to caring for patients.

"This will provide important guidance for other states when this question arises in other states, which, doubtless it will," Pizer said. "It makes clear that a person engaging in a profession or business has a responsibility to pick a line of work in which that person can follow their own moral precepts and also comply with applicable law."

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