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French bioethics body backs assisted reproduction for all women

Loic Venance, AFP | A pregnant woman poses on June 8, 2018 in Vertou, western France

France’s highest bioethics body, the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE), ruled on Tuesday that access to medically assisted reproduction should be expanded to include single women and lesbian couples.

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Equal access to medically assisted reproduction has been a hot-button issue in France ever since the country legalised same-sex marriage and adoption in 2013. Under the current law, technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and artificial insemination are restricted to heterosexual couples and surrogacy is illegal.

Single women and lesbian couples who want to freeze their eggs or undergo other forms of fertility treatment are often forced to seek medical assistance in nearby countries such as Spain and Belgium, which have less restrictive laws. Such trips are often prohibitively expensive and don’t always end in success.

But all this could soon change. The government of French President Emmanuel Macron, who campaigned partly on the promise to legalise medically assisted reproduction for all women, is expected to present a bill to parliament by the end of the year.

In its report the CCNE recommended, but said it "does not encourage", freezing eggs "as a precaution for all women who so desire, after seeking a medical opinion (the only restrictions being minimal and maximum age)”. 

It added that “artificial insemination should be available to all women” regardless of relationship status or sexual orientation, reasoning that the inability to have children constituted a real “hardship”.

However, it upheld the country’s current policy on surrogacy, ruling that the practice is unethical no matter the "motivation", medical or otherwise.

Although the CCNE’s ruling is largely advisory, it is expected to help shape the debate in parliament and signifies a major shift in attitude towards medically assisted reproduction.

According to a recent study by IFOP for the Catholic newspaper La Croix, 60 percent of French people support expanding the law to include single women and lesbian couples, as opposed to just 24 percent in 1990.

But despite growing support for equal access to medically assisted reproduction, the issue still faces staunch opposition from the country’s conservative and religious groups.

The Manif Pour Tous (or Protest For Everyone) movement, which spearheaded demonstrations against the legalisation of same-sex marriage five years ago, dismissed the CCNE’s findings as “political rather ethical”.

It called on its followers to protest in front of the committee's headquarters in Paris. The movement wants to make sure “our conclusions about the general state of bioethics are taken into account”, its vice president, Albéric Dumont, told AFP.

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