France debates widening access to assisted pregnancy

Paris (AFP) –


Aged nearly 43 and after five futile years of seeking medical help, Laura fears she may never have a child and faces an agonising choice -- keep on trying a while longer or give up in despair.

As a single woman, Laura cannot access assisted pregnancy services in France where they are restricted to heterosexual couples, although that may change under a law to be debated later this year.

The proposed law to be debated by lawmakers in September would offer medical assistance to all women, including lesbian couples, fulfilling a campaign promise made by President Emmanuel Macron.

If passed this would bring France into line with 10 of its EU partners -- Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

For Laura, it may come too late.

In 2013, with "the biological clock ticking down," she felt she had little option but to try to get around the French system or spend a small fortune seeking medical help abroad.

Laura -- not her real name -- said she made the decision "after careful reflection, thinking most about the welfare of the child."

She first sought out a willing partner among friends to get pregnant but that fell through.

There was little chance of adoption as a single would-be parent, as such applications get put at the bottom of the pile, she said.

The next step was to contact two clinics in Belgium, in Brussels and Liege.

"It was a two-year wait for the first. Given my age, they told me to 'drop it,'" Laura told AFP.

"The second one told me they did not help single women."

- Like a 'job interview' -

Laura said she next tried a clinic in Elsendorp, in the Netherlands, fearful at first she would get the same interrogation routine as in France.

"I went along as if I was going for a job interview, I had got so used to being judged in France... but the welcome was marvellous, very humane," she said.

But there was a problem -- in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment is time consuming and she found herself on a waiting list again.

"With a heavy heart," Laura decided to try Eugin, a well-known clinic in Barcelona where she underwent a medical marathon of tests and treatments, including hormone injections to boost her chances of becoming pregnant.

"It was overwhelming," Laura said of the costly and time consuming procedure. But she was then lucky to find a doctor in France to complete the process, despite it being illegal in her case.

The prospects were promising, with four embryos collected.

But hope turned to despair -- none of the implantations worked and Laura suffered a miscarriage in May.

- Heavy burden -

"I am conscious that the older one gets, the more complicated pregnancy becomes. But there is always this desire to give love to a child, to see it grow and to cherish it," she said.

"It is painful to tell yourself that it may never happen for you."

The emotional burden is enormous and while it is "stupid to talk about money," there has been a financial cost too.

She has spent more than 15,000 euros ($17,000), including 11,000 euros which she borrowed pretending that she was going to buy a car with it.

Isabelle Laurans, co-head of the Mam'En Solo group which is pressing for medically assisted pregnancy to be open to all women, said the financial cost was a real barrier.

"I know women who have used all their savings... even sold their house to make this happen," Laurans said.

She said the procedure should be open to all women and up to the age of 45, she added.

- Cultural values -

Opinion seems divided in France, a historically Catholic country and now an officially secular republic.

Two studies carried out by the Ifop polling company for pro- and anti-reform groups presented a mixed picture and indicated that about a fifth of respondents were undecided.

Experts say the differing standards and practices in France and other countries reflect cultural and historical factors.

The Council of State, a top state advisory body, said in a report on the issue last year that France's "bio-ethics model" prized the notion of "dignity" over individual freedoms.

It said this made France more willing to impose limits on practices such as assisted pregnancy while other countries put the emphasis on personal freedom.

"In Spain, which is very Catholic, in England, in the Netherlands, there are many countries where this is okay," says Laura.

"Why is it so complicated in France? I am angry with my country."