A Michigan doctor refuses to treat lesbian couple’s baby, citing religion

Detroit-area pediatrician ‘prayed about it’ and decided she could not treat a 6-day-old baby with lesbian parents

A Detroit-area pediatrician refused to treat a newborn baby girl because her parents are lesbians, according to local media reports that have highlighted a lack of legal protections for LGBT people in many states.

Krista and Jami Contreras brought their 6-day-old baby girl to see Dr. Vesna Roi at Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville, Michigan, for her first checkup in October 2014. They were dismayed when they were greeted by a different pediatrician, who told them Roi had “prayed about it” and decided she could not treat the baby for religious regions, the Detroit Free Press reported on Wednesday.

Roi was not immediately available for comment to Al Jazeera.

The women had searched for a pediatrician who would be open to treating the child of a married lesbian couple, and their midwife had recommended Roi as having “a more holistic approach,” Krista Contreras wrote in a Facebook post about the incident. After meeting with Roi, the Contrerases decided the doctor was a good fit, and they were instructed to schedule their baby’s first appointment once she was born.

Roi “was well aware that we were lesbian moms. We canceled meetings with other pediatricians because we were happy with her,” Krista wrote in the Facebook post. “Now our little girl was six days old, and we were in a room with a doctor we have never met, feeling pretty humiliated, distraught and hurt.”

She added, “The fact that [Roi] refused to see our innocent little girl is disturbing. But the fact that she did not have the decency to let us know ahead of time that she had a problem with the sexual orientation of her parents and would not be willing to take her as a patient really just pissed me off.”

While the incident happened in October 2014, the mothers told the Detroit Free Press that they decided to come forward with their story to highlight the plight of same-sex parents who experience discrimination.

Roi, who has been a pediatrician for nearly 20 years, told the Detroit Free Press that she couldn’t comment on the case, citing HIPPA, the federal law protecting the privacy of patients’ medical information. But she apologized to the women for refusing to treat their daughter, in a letter printed by newspaper.

“I never meant to hurt either of you,” Roi wrote. “After much prayer following your prenatal [visit], I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients.” She said that the women are “always welcome” at the office and could visit another pediatrician there, and that she should have told them at that initial visit that she would not be able to treat them.

"Please know that I believe that God gives us free choice, and I would never judge anyone based on what they do with that free choice. Again, I am very sorry for the hurt and angry feelings that were created by this,” Roi wrote.

The federal Affordable Care Act put into place new patient protections that keep insurers from discriminating against them for health status. The law also bars health insurance companies from discriminating against patients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Insurers cannot drop a patient for having HIV or cap their lifetime medical costs to wriggle out of covering expensive anti-retroviral medications.

Still, Roi may be within her legal rights to deny an LGBT couple services based on her religious beliefs, because Michigan does not protect LGBT residents from being refused business or medical services. Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, and marital status, but it does not include sexual or gender orientation, according to Equality Michigan, an LGBT advocacy group.

The American Medical Association’s code of ethics, however, states that doctors cannot refuse to treat patients based on race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the AMA says physicians can refuse to offer a specific treatment to a patient if it is against the doctor’s “personal, religious or moral beliefs,” he or she “may not decline to accept patients because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis that would constitute invidious discrimination.”

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights advocacy group, has created a clearinghouse of the most LGBT-friendly health care providers in the country.

“It’s like your worst fear, to have someone say, ‘I can’t work with people like you,’ when they’re still celebrating the arrival of their child and full of joy, and just trying to do the best for their child,” said Ellen Kahn, director of the group’s children and youth families program.

Kahn, who is also a lesbian mother, said LGBT parents put a lot of thought into choosing pediatricians and other health care providers who are gay-friendly. “It’s very much a concern around, ‘Is this doctor going to respect us and treat us well as a same-sex couple,’” she told Al Jazeera.

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