France to legalise IVF for lesbians after two-year debate

By: AFP      Published: 07:15 PM, 29 Jun, 2021
France to legalise IVF for lesbians after two-year debate

Lesbian couples and single women in France are set to celebrate a milestone on Tuesday when parliament passes a bill giving them access to fertility treatment for the first time.

Under current French law, only heterosexual couples have the right to access medically assisted procreation methods such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF). 

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

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

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

The Inter-LGBT association said it welcomed the change, which it described as a "forceps birth" after years of foot-dragging by successive governments and further delays wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Minister Olivier Veran 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 2021.

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

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 the government of his predecessor, Francois 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.

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

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 Republicans party, which has a majority in the Senate, and the far-right National Rally (RN) had strongly opposed the bill.

"You will produce children that have been deprived of a father," Republicans MP Patrick Hetzel 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 Republic on the Move party and its allies, has the final say.

The outcome of the vote on Macron's only major social reform so far is therefore seen as a foregone conclusion.

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 at legalising surrogacy, a practice used by some couples to have children that is still widely rejected in France.