A bioethics law drafted by French President Emmanuel Macron's government includes language to expand who is eligible for procedures such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, or IVF. French law currently limits assisted reproduction to infertile heterosexual couples only.
While the French government says it is responding to changes in society, its bill is sure to generate debate when it comes up next month in parliament. After France in May 2013 made it legal for same-sex couples to marry and adopt children together, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Paris.
The draft calls for France's national health care system to cover the cost of four rounds of assisted reproduction per pregnancy for all women up to an age limit yet to be set. The bill also allows children conceived with donated sperm to find out the donor's identity upon demand when they reach age 18, a change from the strict donor anonymity protections France has now.
However, it would not remove France's ban on surrogacy arrangements in which a woman carries and delivers a baby for someone else. French LGBT rights groups lobbied for the proposed provisions after France legalized same-sex marriage2013. They said allowing lesbians and single women to have IVF and other procedures would keep mothers and their babies from running afoul of the French legal system and give them access to the country's generous health care system.
"This simply is a measure of equality for French female citizens, whatever their sexual orientation is," the Association of Gay and Lesbian Parents and Future Parents said in a statement. Twenty conservative groups are already organizing a protest for October to denounce the bill, alleging it will lead to more children raised without fathers. The groups also worry the expanded access to pregnancy procedures would eventually lead to the legalization of surrogate pregnancies.
"Saying that you're creating new rights ... while ignoring the consequences for children on purpose is a revolting and despicable process," said Alberic Dumont, vice president of Demonstration for Everyone, a group that is among the bill's critics.
Lesbian couples, single women or both already have legal access to medically assisted reproduction in 18 of the European Union's 28 countries. French women who can't get procedures at home and can afford it often go to neighboring Spain or Belgium, where a single round of IVF round costs several thousand euros (dollars).
Virginie, 36, who lives in the southern city of Marseille, married her wife, Cecile, in June. The two women decided not to wait for passage of the government's proposed law to try to become parents, fearing the parliament debate could last months.
Instead, they chose to use donor sperm mailed from Denmark for 1,000 euros ($1,112). That process is illegal in France, which is why Virginie, who plans to carry the baby, did not want to be identified with her last name.
"If that first try doesn't work, we are considering using the new French law," she told The Associated Press. Virginie said it's difficult doing something that is illegal and she thinks the proposed law would help many French women. But she also fears it might trigger an anti-gay backlash and encountering medical professionals who balk at serving same-sex couples.
Amandine Zevolino, 35, and her wife, Camille live in Montpellier in southern France and have been married for a year and a half. Zevolino went to Spain to try to get pregnant, but didn't feel comfortable with the anonymity and commercial aspect of using a sperm donor.
She finally decided to perform at-home insemination with the help of a friend who agreed to donate the sperm. "We did a contract, even if we know it doesn't have any legal value," Zevolino said. "If it works, the child will know how he/she came to the world."
She is still hesitating about telling French medical workers the truth. The situation "forces us to lie," she lamented. Zevolino thinks the parliament debate will ignite political tensions, but she also hopes the new law will help French society become more accepting of lesbian and single mothers.
"Usually in France on that kind of issue, once the law is passed, it's definitive," she said.