California Supreme Court’s Marriage Decision Could Impact Abortion Debate

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 20, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Supreme Court’s Marriage Decision Could Impact Abortion Debate

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 20
, 2008

Sacramento, CA ( — The California Supreme Court recently issued a narrow 4-3 decision that made sexual orientation a “suspect classification” deserving of heightened protection. The controversial decision may impact more than marriage issues and could cause concerns for pro-life medical professionals.

While the legal repercussions of this case are not yet known, Denise Burke, a staff attorney with Americans United for Life, says they could be far-reaching.

She worries pro-life doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others who don’t want to participate in practices such as abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research could be adversely affected.

"We may soon have the chance to evaluate how far this liberal court is willing to go in advancing a progressive social agenda and undermining the right of the people to decide important issues and govern themselves," she said.

Burke points to another case the court is considering that could further the sexual orientation decision.

The case involves two Christian physicians at North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group who would not artificially inseminate a woman, Ms. Benitez, an unmarried lesbian, because of her marital status.

Benitez filed suit even though the physicians referred her to an alternative provider (who successfully performed the procedure) and paid the costs associated with her transfer to the new provider.

The woman claims the doctors refused to treat her because she is a lesbian and that decision amounts to illegal discrimination.

More to the point for pro-life physicians, Burke says "Benitez and her attorneys have also argued that the physicians have no right to assert their consciences as a defense to the claims in the lawsuit."

That’s the same sort of conscience right that compels pro-life medical professionals to say they should opt out of anti-life practices.

In the Benitez case, a lower court disagreed with her contentions and Burke said it "ruled that the physicians had every right to assert their constitutionally-protected rights of conscience as a defense in the case."

Benitez appealed and the case is now on its way to the state’s high court.

"This case now pits the long-established federal and state constitutional rights of healthcare providers to practice according to their consciences against the new determination of the California Supreme Court," Burke explained.

"At worst, the court could use its analysis in the marriage case to undermine healthcare rights of conscience. Specifically, the court could find that a physician’s right of conscience is trumped by the right of patients to demand certain procedures," she said.

A poor ruling in the case could force doctors to engage in abortions regardless of the physicians moral or religious views against them.

"In doing so, the Court would likely find that medicine is not a service but a commodity and that the patient is entitled to receive what he or she wants without regard to the physician’s ethics, morals or religious beliefs," Burke says.

"This would be an unprecedented and incredibly dangerous decision for patients and healthcare providers, ultimately undermining the quality and availability of healthcare in California while eviscerating important constitutional rights," Burke concludes.

Related web sites:
Americans United for Life –