Why Did This Doctor Refuse to Care for a Baby?

February 26, 2015

Moms Jami and Krista Contreras of Oak Park, Michigan brought their six-day-old newborn into a Roseville pediatric practice for a wellness checkup. The couple was turned away. Why?

They’re lesbians.

After developing a relationship with their chosen pediatrician, Dr. Vesna Roi, the couple found that after “much prayer,” she had changed her mind and would no longer treat their child.

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, Krista Contreras recalled, “When we tell people about it, they don't believe us. They say, '(Doctors) can't do that. That's not legal.' And we say, 'Yes it is.'"

The Contrerases were shocked and frustrated. But they knew full well that legally, Dr. Roi was perfectly within bounds.

Jami and Krista Contreras have decided to come public with their story to show just how poorly federal and Michigan laws afford anti-discriminatory protections to the LGBT community.

While 22 states have passed legislation that prohibits doctors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, Michigan is not one of them.

Jami and Krista question whether only making medical policies more progressive is enough. The state must reconsider the ways in which the LGBT community is discriminated against on all levels.

Michigan’s civil rights law, the Elliott-Larsen Act, was enacted in 1976 to protect Michiganders against discrimination on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status.

Sexual orientation and gender identity still remain glaring exclusions.

“The ACLU has been working tirelessly for decades to update Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights laws to make it illegal to discriminate against someone because they are gay, lesbian or transgender,” says Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan Legislative Director, “This past year, the Michigan legislature refused, once again, to pass a law that would make what this doctor did – to a baby – illegal. But some legislators said it wasn’t necessary because they don’t believe that such discriminatory behavior really happens. It happens.”

The ACLU of Michigan has been working to fight against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as well. Essentially, RFRA contends that if an individual feels morally offended by another person’s identity or presentation, they can deny them a service or accommodation on the basis of their right to practice their religion.

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for ACLU Michigan’s LGBT project, pointed to the dangers of RFRA and its potential applicability to the Contreras’ situation, as “It would give both tacit approval and encouragement to this physician to use her religious beliefs to discriminate against patients in a non-religious setting.”

Unfortunately, Jami and Krista's story encapsulates quite well the ways in which Michigan’s current set of laws are used to actively discriminate against the LGBT community, often under the guise of religious freedom.

By Sarah Goomar, ACLU of Michigan Fellow