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PARIS -- Gwendoline Desarmenien wanted to have a baby. But as a single woman in France, she was by law denied access to in-vitro fertilization.

And so Desarmenien drove from her home in Montpellier across the border into Spain, where she found a clinic and a hotel where she could stay during her treatment.

The expedition was expensive, costing Desarmenien, a human resources officer of moderate means, about $6,600. But one of the hardest parts, she said, was feeling that her country thought she was doing something wrong.

"All these restrictions that we have show a lack of an open spirit -- that we still have difficulty evolving and modernizing," said Desarmenien, 43, whose daughter is now 1½. "I think French society has difficulty realizing that the family isn't just a father and a mother. And if we are in the process of advancing, it is slowly."

President Emmanuel Macron is trying to encourage that advancement by changing French law on reproductive technology. It's his most significant social change to date. And it would take France in line with what is legal and routine in many other European Union countries. Ten EU nations permit the treatments for single women and lesbian couples, and seven others restrict it to single women.

"The criterion that defines a family is the love that unites a parent and child," Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said when introducing the bill in Parliament.

But the effort has produced a backlash -- likely to be visible in protests planned for today in Paris and across the nation.

While French liberals say the question is about basic rights for women, conservatives say it's about children's rights to have fathers.

The government, said far-right advocate Marion Marechal, is trying "to voluntarily deprive a child of a father or to transform him and the mother who carries him into a consumer product."

France currently limits access to medically assisted reproduction -- including artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization -- to heterosexual couples who are married or have been living together for more than two years.

The revised bioethics law proposed by Macron's government would extend access to single women and same-sex couples. Women under 43 would be eligible for artificial insemination and up to four rounds of in-vitro fertilization, fully covered by the French health system. Women in their mid-30s would also get coverage for egg freezing -- something now available only to women undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments that could compromise fertility. A ban on surrogacy would remain in place.

The bill passed in the French Parliament's lower house late last month and is scheduled for discussion in the Senate in coming weeks.

It won't become law without a fight, though.

In 2013, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest same-sex marriage. Now, many of the same conservative religious leaders and far-right politicians are urging people to protest the bioethics bill.

"Because it's unfair to want to authorize the manufacture of children voluntarily deprived of a father," reads the call to arms of the group organizing today's demonstrations. "Because this would weaken the familial tissue and thus all of society."

A Section on 10/06/2019

Print Headline: French debate keys on fertility-treatment laws

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