By Kate Waldock
France has been rocked by protests this week as huge swathes of people gathered in the streets to protest against a new bill that would allow single women and lesbian couples access to in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
IVF treatment is a process which would allow single women and lesbian couples to have children of their own. According to the organisers of the protest, around 600,000 people turned up to the event but independent research groups put the number at around 74,000. Demonstrators opposing the protest gathered in much smaller numbers. The bill, if passed, would be the first major change in law since France legalised gay marriage in 2013. The bill has currently passed through the lower house.
The bill would allow all women who are under 43-years old to have access to IVF treatment, no matter whether they were in a lesbian couple or single. The law currently only allows heterosexual couples access to IVF treatment, which some feel is a major inequality for the LGBT community.
In 2013, the legalisation of gay marriage gained a reaction from the same religious and political groups protesting the fertility bill, with thousands taking to the streets back then to protest. Despite France’s principle of laicité (discouraging religious influence in state policy and vice versa), the country has a largely Catholic history which may be why there has been such a strong opposition to the new bill.
If the bill is passed, this would be President Emmanuel Macron’s biggest social bill since taking office in 2017; the bill is due to be debated by the Senate later this month where they will vote on whether it should become law.
Religious groups and politicians alike gathered last week to protest the bill. The Bishop of Bayonne, Marc Aillet, wrote a tweet on Monday October 6 that said (translated), “May God bless those who walk today for the right of every child to have a father #MarchonsEnfants My prayer accompanies them.”
Le Figaro, a major French conservative newspaper, put out an editorial on October 7 in which they stated that the bill “threatens the foundation of our humanity”. Even Macron’s own centrist party, La République en Marche, is divided on the issue and what’s more, the Académie Nationale de Médecine (French Academy of Medicine) has expressed concerns over whether the new bill could have a psychological impact on children conceived through IVF who have lesbian couples and single women as their parents.
When LGBT+ students at Cardiff University were asked for their opinion on the issue, Izzy, a Medicine student who identifies as bisexual, said, “as a Christian bisexual I am surprised by the lack of empathy and compassion on an issue that many see as a human right.” She feels as though the bill is “a huge step forward for equality for the LGBT community and equal rights amongst women.” Lesbian couples would normally have to travel across to other countries in order to receive IVF treatment.
France would be following countries including Britain, the Netherlands and Spain if this bill becomes law.