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Finding fertility: lesbians looking to become parents are more likely now than ever to face religious objections from their doctors.

When Guadalupe Benitez had trouble getting pregnant, she and her partner, Joanne Clark, did what thousands of American women do every year: They sought help from a fertility clinic. In 1999 they went to the only clinic covered by Benitez's health plan, the San Diego--based North Coast Women's Care Medical Group. The clinic refused to help them.

Christine Brody told Benitez during her first visit that, as a Christian, she disapproves of homosexuality and of lesbian and gay couples having children, so she would not perform the insemination. When Benitez persisted, she was told that no one on staff was willing to perform the procedure and that she should go elsewhere. Benitez sued in 2001, and her case is still pending.

The Benitez case opened a window to what has since become a high-profile issue as a growing number of prospective lesbian parents seek fertility services. According to recent reports, lesbians are routinely deified services from clinics nationwide that either explicitly refuse to serve them or, more subtly, serve only women who are married--to men. Indeed, one fertility clinic in five will turn away any unmarried woman seeking help, says a study published in January by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Sherron Mills, the director of Pacific Reproductive Services, a lesbian-run fertility center and sperm bank in San Francisco, says her clinic treats women from all over the United States who cannot find clinics or even lesbian-friendly physicians in their home states. Forty percent of the sperm shipped from Mills's clinic is sent to women outside California. "Not every state has terrible attitudes," Mills says, "but a lot of the conservative ones do."

More and more health care providers are citing their personal religious beliefs as reason to deny gay people a range of services and care, and they're gaining the support of some lawmakers. The Republican-controlled Michigan house of representatives passed a measure last year that would allow health care providers to refuse to treat individual patients based on moral objections. The bill is currently before a state senate committee. Currently, all medical providers "are entitled to have religious or moral objections to performing various procedures," says Lambda Legal attorney Jennifer Pizer, who is representing Benitez. "But in [Benitez's] case, they didn't have an objection to the procedure, they had an objection to the identity of the patient."

Reproductive rights for lesbians is an emerging area in the law, Pizer says. "Lesbians are coming forward, feeling comfortable and excited about creating families, and expecting their doctors to provide the same medical assistance they would provide to a man and a woman," Pizer says. "It's a new and exciting chapter In our movement."

Benitez was able to find a clinic outside her medical plan that would help her, but she had to pay out of pocket. She is now raising a son.
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Title Annotation:Health+Watch
Author:Letellier, Patrick
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 12, 2005
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