A blow to freedom of religion

Fertility treatment is big money, so there are gazillions of treatment centers in most communities.  One such center in San Diego County may well have been put out business, though, by a California Supreme Court ruling mandating that physicians have to provide treatment to lesbians and other unmarried women, even though doing so goes against their religious beliefs:

California doctors who have religious objections to gays and lesbians must nevertheless treat them the same as any other patient or find a colleague in the office who will do so, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday.

The justices rejected a San Diego County fertility clinic’s attempt to use its physicians’ religious beliefs as a justification for their refusal to provide artificial insemination for a lesbian couple. The ruling, based on a state law prohibiting businesses from discriminating against customers because of their sexual orientation, comes three months after the court struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“This isn’t just a win for me personally and for other lesbian women,” said the plaintiff, Guadalupe Benitez. “Anyone could be the next target if doctors are allowed to pick and choose their patients based on religious views about other groups of people.”


“This court is allowing two lesbians to force these individuals to choose between being doctors in the state of California or being able to practice their faith,” said attorney Brad Dacus of the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, which filed arguments backing the doctors.

Benitez, now 36, sued North Coast Women’s Care in Vista (San Diego County) and two of its doctors, saying they told her in 2000 that their Christian beliefs prohibited them from performing intrauterine insemination for a lesbian. The doctors later said they would have refused the treatment for any unmarried couple.

They referred Benitez to another clinic for the insemination, which cost her thousands of dollars because it wasn’t covered by her health plan, her lawyer said. She did not become pregnant then, but since has borne three children and is raising them with her partner of 18 years.

You can read the rest here.

I can’t do any better than to echo Dacus: “This court is allowing two lesbians to force these individuals to choose between being doctors in the state of California or being able to practice their faith.”  All of you know from my previous posts that I believe that, where a marketplace exists, it ought to control the outcome of these matters — and that’s true even if I disagree with the business owner’s beliefs or decision.

It would be different if this were a situation akin to the Jim Crow South and there was a monolithic wall of hatred against gays and lesbians seeking infertility treatments.  Here, however, the contrary is true, because there is a thriving market and fertility clinics make much of their money off of lesbians.  Even in conservative San Diego, as the story above indicates, there are people willing to serve that market.  Further, I find it very hard to believe that, in all of San Diego, the defendants’ office was the only one that worked with the gal’s health plan.

The bottom line for me is that, if that office wanted to do itself out of business based on religious principles, that’s a market decision, not a “court denying people their livelihood based on their beliefs” situation.  And this is, again, different from a monopoly situation such as that at the Minneapolis airport, where almost all the taxi drivers were Muslim, where airport passengers were a captive market, and where the Muslims refused to accept dogs or alcohol in their cabs.  That situation, obviously, was closer to the Jim Crow analogy, where there is no real marketplace.

One other point of interest.  The San Francisco Chronicle story from which I quoted above has an interesting caption:  “Doctors can’t use bias to deny gays treatment.”  Doesn’t that sound as if some ER doctor had before him a gay person who was dying on the table and just walked away because the doc was a homophobe?  That would certainly be a dreadful situation, worthy of that caption, especially because imminent death again implies no marketplace.  A busy marketplace, however, in which doctors turn away money because of their religious principles, strikes me as a different situation altogether, and one that does not deserve that type of lede.

For a good analysis of the legal errors in the Court’s opinion, go here.