By LifeSiteNews.com Staff
SAN DIEGO, December 7, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) -Â – A California appeals court ruled Friday that two San Diego doctors may assert religious reasons in their defense against a lawsuit by an unmarried woman who claims the physicians discriminated against her because she is a lesbian.Â For clinical and religious reasons, the physicians referred the woman, Guadalupe Benitez, to a fertility specialist when she requested they perform a type of artificial insemination procedure called intrauterine insemination.
“Our First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion.Â The right to religious liberty is one of the most vital rights Americans have under the Constitution,” said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Timothy Chandler, who co-wrote the appellate brief in the case with Robert Tyler, general counsel for Advocates of Faith and Freedom.
“The court appropriately recognized that a physician should have the right to present their religious liberty defense at trial and that the lower court was wrong to prevent that defense,” said Tyler.Â“The right to religious liberty cannot be swept under the rug.”
For reasons of conscience, the two doctors were unwilling to perform the IUI procedure themselves on unmarried women; however, they agreed to provide all of the pre- and post-natal care as well as absorb any of the costs Benitez incurred as a result of a referral to an outside fertility specialist.Â Two other physicians in the same medical group had agreed to perform IUI for Benitez.
The IUI was unsuccessful, but Benitez filed suit six months after becoming pregnant through in vitro fertilization, claiming discrimination and later asserting that the physicians should have no right to a religious liberty defense.
ADF and Advocates of Faith and Freedom participated with the Carlsbad law firm of DiCaro, Coppo & Popcke in defense of the doctors.Â“The restoration of the religious liberty defense is critical to providing the doctors a fair opportunity to tell their story at trial,” said Carlo Coppo, lead counsel in the case, who argued before the court.
According to the opinion issued Friday by the California Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District, Division 1, the doctors “are entitled to present evidence that their religious beliefs prohibited them from performing IUI on any unmarried woman, regardless of the woman’s sexual orientation….”
The lawsuit, Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, was originally filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego on July 5, 2001.Â The complete text of the opinion issued Friday can be read at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/BenitezWritCCA.pdf