French parliament votes to extend IVF rights to lesbians and single women

·3-min read

Lesbian couples and single women in France are set to celebrate on Tuesday as parliament definitively approved a bill that will give them access to fertility treatments for the first time. Under current French law, only heterosexual couples have the right to access medically assisted fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Lesbian couples and single women who want children had to travel abroad for IVF using donor sperm.

That is set to change under the new legislation, introduced by President Emmanuel Macron's government and which passed a final vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday after two years of often acrimonious debate.

The change will bring France into line with several other European countries, including Belgium and Spain, currently two of the top destinations for French lesbian couples and single women looking for help in conceiving.

The Inter-LGBT association said it welcomed the change after years of foot-dragging by successive governments and further delays wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Minister Olivier Véran has promised to try to make up for lost time, saying that women will be able to begin treatment in the autumn with a view to becoming pregnant by the end of the year.

A spokesman for the association of French same-sex families, Fabien Joly, has warned that demand could be so strong it could lead to shortages at sperm banks.

Protests fizzle

While campaigning for president in 2017, Macron said he was in favour of extending fertility treatment to lesbian and single women.

But once elected, the centrist leader repeatedly put off changing the law, mindful of the mass protests triggered by a gay marriage bill in 2013 that caught his predecessor, François Hollande, off guard.

However, public opinion this time is squarely behind the move, which will make France the 11th country in the 27-member EU to allow medically assisted procreation for lesbian couples and single women alike.

A recent Ifop poll found that 67 percent of French people supported the measure.

And calls for protests by the largely Catholic anti-gay marriage movement have yielded only a tepid response.

>> ‘It’s against nature,’ say French protesters opposed to fertility treatments for single women, lesbians

Under the proposed law, which was first ratified by the National Assembly in October 2019 but then held up in the Senate, France's healthcare system will cover the cost of fertility procedures for all women under 43.

The right-wing Les Républicains party, which has a majority in the Senate, and the far-right National Rally had strongly opposed the bill.

"You will produce children that have been deprived of a father," MP Patrick Hetzel of Les Républicains argued.

In the end, the Senate grudgingly backed the bill after introducing hundreds of amendments, but right-wing lawmakers continued to resist having the state cover the cost of the treatment.

In the event of disagreements, the National Assembly, which is controlled by Macron's LREM (La République En Marche) party and its allies, had the final say on what is Macron's only major social reform so far.

The legislation addresses several issues arising out of the huge increase in the use of fertility treatment in recent years.

Controversially, it allows children conceived with donor sperm to learn the donor's identity when they become adults, ending the anonymity that donors in France have been guaranteed until now.

And it allows women in their 30s to freeze their eggs – a procedure currently available only to women undergoing treatment for conditions that could impact their fertility, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer.

But it stops short of legalising surrogacy, a practice used by some couples to have children that is still widely rejected in France.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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