The lower house of the French Parliament overwhelmingly passed a measure this week that mandates the national healthcare system cover in vitro fertilization (IVF) for single women and lesbian couples. The current system allows assisted reproduction for infertile heterosexual couples only.
Proponents argue women have a right to bear children regardless of their marital status or sexuality, but French pro-family groups contend the new legislation treads on the rights of children by denying them a relationship with their father.
The National Assembly voted 359-114 on Tuesday to approve the measure, which was part of a broader bioethics bill. It gives all women in France under age 43 paid access to IVF, egg freezing, and fertility medication.
The legislation, part of a campaign pledge by French President Emmanuel Macron, now heads to the Senate for debate. If it passes, France will join 18 of 28 European Union countries that allow single women and lesbian couples to use donor sperm to create children.
Tens of thousands of opponents demonstrated in Paris on Oct. 6, chanting “Liberty, Equality, Paternity,” a play on the French motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”
“The family, with a mother and a father, is an ecosystem that needs protecting,” demonstrator Christian Kersabiec told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
The conservative group La Manif Pour Tous (Protest for Everyone) argued the proposal makes fertility treatments a response to an adult’s desire for children instead of a treatment for medical infertility. Although the pending legislation would allow children conceived with donor sperm to learn their father’s identity after they turn 18—current law in France offers sperm donors strict anonymity—opponents stress that doesn’t solve the problem of children born and raised without any personal or legal connection to their biological fathers. (The law would allow birth certificates to list only a mother or two mothers.) They also contend the measure will eventually lead to the legalization of surrogacy in France, a natural next step when same-sex male couples argue they have a right to children, as well.
“I believe we are going too fast and we’re not thinking about the consequences of this law,” said demonstrator Monique Brassier. “We are heading toward a commercialization of the human being, a commercialization of procreation, and that scares me.”
The United States has no federal laws governing who can participate in assisted reproductive technology. Although states have traditionally established parentage by biology or adoption, some states are moving toward “intent-based parenthood” determined by who plans to raise the child regardless of their biological connection.
Another French group opposed to the measure, La Voix des Sans Père (The Voice of the Fatherless), denounced the legislation in a presentation before the UN Human Rights Council last month. The group’s president, Emmanuel Le Pargneux, pointed out that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states a child has the right from birth, as far as possible, “to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”
The proposed measure is an effort to “dominate life by controlling the whole process of procreation,” said Claire de La Hougue, a research fellow at the European Center for Law and Justice. She argued the legislation ultimately changes the foundation of parenthood, ignoring the interests of children to satisfy the desires of adults: “After wanting to separate sexuality and procreation to have sexuality without procreation, we now want procreation without sexuality.”