By Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS (Reuters) - France's Senate voted on Wednesday in favour of a bill that would allow single women and lesbian couples access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the first major social reform of President Emmanuel Macron's term.
The bill was passed 160-116 in the Senate, where Macron's centrist party is outnumbered by right-wing Republicans.
The bill is part of a broader bioethics law, which in October cleared its first reading in the National Assembly, the lower house where Macron's party commands a majority.
The law would unwind some of western Europe’s strictest rules governing medically assisted pregnancies, a campaign promise of Macron.
The senators, however, voted down an article approved by the lower house, that would have allowed IVF to be reimbursed by French social security.
Under existing law in France, IVF is available only to opposite-sex couples, and only for reasons of infertility or the risk of transmission of a disease or medical condition to the child or either parent.
Medically assisted reproduction - such as IVF - is widely available to all women in countries such as Britain, Belgium, Spain. But in France, it has fed into a broader debate about the commercialization of healthcare and gay rights.
"What was recognized to heterosexual couples must be recognized for homosexual couples," said Socialist party senator David Assouline.
The legalization of gay marriage in France six years ago sparked massive street protests even though the influence of the Catholic Church was thought to be in decline.
In a sign France has become more socially liberal, polls show a majority of French people back the bioethics reform.
Some opponents of the bioethics bill fear it will pave the way for the legalisation of surrogacy - where a surrogate mother is either implanted with a sperm and egg or becomes pregnant using her own egg - whose popularity is soaring globally, particularly among LGBT+ couples who want to become parents.
Last weekend 41,000 people marched peacefully through Paris to oppose the bill.
Conservative party The Republicans Senator Pascale Bories said she regretted that Macron "did not have the courage to do a referendum on this issue because debates transcend political parties."
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Lisa Shumaker)