Blind woman loses fertility lawsuit

/ Source: The Associated Press

A fertility clinic accused of discrimination for refusing to help a blind woman conceive was cleared of wrongdoing Friday by a federal jury.

Kijuana Chambers, 33, who was seeking unspecified damages, put her head in her hands as U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn read the decision.

Outside court, she said the decision would prevent other disabled women from seeking fertility treatment. Her attorney said he was considering an appeal.

Chambers had accused the Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Care Center of stopping her fertility treatments in 1999 after four rounds when she refused to hire an occupational therapist to evaluate the safety of her home. Her lawsuit claimed the clinic violated two federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Christopher Miller, an attorney for the clinic, said doctors were worried Chambers could not care for a baby and turned her down because it was the right thing to do. “This case is about the moral and ethical responsibility of a physician,” he said.

Dr. Susan Horvath, who handled the case at the clinic, said clinic staff told her Chambers had trouble getting dressed and getting to bus stops. The staff also was concerned that Chambers had soiled underwear and wondered whether she could keep a baby clean, Horvath said.

During closing arguments Thursday, Chambers’ attorney, Scott LeBarre, argued that the only information doctors had on which to base their refusal were medical records and reports that indicated Chambers was blind. Doctors only expressed concerns about Chambers’ mental condition, her hygiene and her ability to childproof her home to justify their discrimination, he said.

“If they had conditioned their services on race, there would be riots in front of that clinic,” said LeBarre, who also is blind.

Chambers, who now lives in Davenport, Iowa, found another clinic to do the procedure and gave birth to a daughter, Laurina, on Jan. 1, 2001.

“There was a doctor who treated me like a woman in order for me to conceive her,” Chambers said after the ruling. “So in that sense, it’s a miracle she’s here. But I’ve got to get the rest of them to do the same.”

During the two-week trial, Chambers said she had always wanted a child, but it seemed unlikely because she is a lesbian.

The lawsuit was brought by the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. The coalition said there have been few cases in which a disability deprived a woman of artificial insemination.