Liberty, Equality, Paternity? France Divided Over Pending IVF Legislation
By Brenna Mason, Associate Editor
On October 6, 2019, thousands of people took to the streets of Paris to protest a French bill that would make in-vitro-fertilization (IVF) treatment available to women regardless of their relationship status or sexual orientation. The bill is the largest social issue President Emmanuel Macron has placed on his agenda since taking office in 2017. However, the subject matter of the proposed legislation has divided the country along moral and political lines.
Under current French law, IVF treatment is only legal for heterosexual couples who have been married or in a civil union for at least two years and have been deemed infertile by a doctor. This limitation placed upon women’s access to fertility treatments is one of the most restrictive in Europe. IVF treatment for French women who meet a specific set of qualifications often force those who do not to travel abroad for treatment. Proposed legislation would prevent women from resorting to such lengths to have children because their sexual orientation or marital status makes them ineligible for IVF treatment.
The bill would also guarantee coverage under the French health care system for any woman under 43 who sought fertility through IVF treatments. Current French policy toward strict donor anonymity would also be loosened. Any child conceived with donated sperm would be able to find out the sperm donor’s identity if they chose upon turning 18. Finally, lesbian couples would be able to list “mother and mother” on their child’s birth certificate as opposed to “mother and father”.
Each of these individual measures was incorporated within a larger bioethics bill which the French National Assembly passed in a 55 to 17 vote. The draft bill will now make its way to the Senate, which will vote on its passage later this month. Current polling of the French public suggest the bill is supported by about two-thirds of the public. However, as the bill works its way through the French democratic process it remains highly contested by activist groups and opposing political parties.
Among the largest opponents to the bill are political and religious conservatives. These groups want the bill to be totally disregarded. When they took to the streets in early October to express their outrage, many carried signs with them that said, “Where is my Dad?”, while others chanted “Liberty, Equality, Paternity”. These chants highlight the opposition’s main argument, that children should not be raised in a household deprived of a father figure. They also believe that passage of this bill will promote the commercialization of the body, and eventually the legalization of surrogacy.
A majority of these conservative groups also demonstrated in the streets following the legalization of gay marriage in 2013. The division between Macron’s agenda and traditional ideals of family highlight a continued tension in France which has not dissipated since controversy surrounding same-sex marriage in 2013. Media outlets estimated that 74,500 protestors filled Paris’s streets on Sunday which is substantially lower than the 600,000 people organizers claimed were there. While the Senate prepares to vote on the bill at the end of the month, protestors have vowed to continue their fight in opposition to expansion of women who may recieve IVF treatment.
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Rachel Donadio, Why IVF Has Divided France, The Atlantic (Oct 6, 2019) available at https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/10/france-ivf-about-national-identity/599494/