Tuesday, May 20, 2008
ENGLAND: Two Mother IVF Families Enshrined in Law, May 20, 2008
May 20, 2008
Two mother IVF families enshrined in law
By Andrew Porter Political Editor
A child will legally be able to have two mothers and no father after MPs voted to take away the need for fathers when parents undergo fertility treatment.
In a controversial move both women in a lesbian relationship will be able to have the status of legal parents when one of them gives birth.
It came as MPs prepared to vote on lowering the time limit on abortion.
Family campaigners have attacked the move which will change how families have been historically defined.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will update previous legislation to remove the reference to a father.
Where two women are in a relationship and one has fertility treatment in order to conceive then the partner should be treated as the other “parent” even if they are not in a civil partnership.
In those circumstances no man - such as the sperm donor - can be treated as a father, the Bill says, to avoid a child having three legal parents.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, led the opposition to the plans. He denied he was attempting to return to a former age where two-parent families were the norm.
He told MPs: “I am not trying to paint some incredible rosy picture. On the whole the absence of fathers generally has a detrimental effect on the child.”
On the clause requiring clinics to consider the need for a father before agreeing to IVF treatment he said: “Taking it away would be as though we are saying to those couples, particularly in the heterosexual world, that this is not an issue, that fathers are not important, they're less important than mothers and therefore you don't need to take them into consideration.”
However his bid to ensure the need for a father in fertility treatment was rejected by 292 votes to 217, a majority 75. Another Tory amendment which called for “a father figure” was also rejected by a majority of 68.
Last night Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales said it would be “wrong to pass a law” where parenthood was not recognised, “because clearly there must be a father for a child.”
Mark Simmonds, the Conservative health spokesman, earlier said there was no evidence single sex couples or single women had been disadvantaged or faced barriers to fertility treatment.
He suggested it was “odd and inconsistent, incompatible and paradoxical” that ministers promoted the importance of fathers through policies but wanted to eliminate the need for a father to be considered before IVF.
David Taylor, the Labour MP, added: “Wouldn't it be absolutely perverse at this stage to write the father out of the script?”
The change reflects the fact that in a heterosexual couple when the woman is inseminated with donor sperm the man is treated as the father even though he has no biological link to the resulting child. Male gay couples who have children via surrogate mothers or by adoption are not covered by the new legislation.
The Bill says that where there is reference to the father of a child such as on birth certificates this is to be read as reference to the female parent who did not give birth.
It will also say for the first time that babies born through fertility treatment do not need to have a father figure and parents will be banned from choosing the sex of their child.
Emily Thornberry, the Labour MP for Islington, said: “Why are we doing this in the 21st century? I always worry when people start saying they are only applying common sense, because so often common sense is a cover for discrimination, narrowness and an inability to face the 21st century.
”The important point is to give legal rights to lesbian couples and single women. Particularly when it comes to lesbian couples, at least you will then have two legally recognised parents, instead of one, and what is wrong with that.”
But Sir Patrick Cormack, who represents the Tory seat South Staffordshire, said: “Whatever may be the case in Islington, in Staffordshire it is thought normal for a child to have a mother and a father.
Most Tory MPs, including David Cameron, were against the move. He believes there should be a father figure involved with every child.
Dawn Primarolo, the Health Minister, said reinstating the need for a father would be discriminatory as it would “create an additional hurdle” for lesbian couples and single women.
It was “wholly inappropriate” to retain the “additional discriminatory burden” following the decisions to allow civil partnerships and adoption by gay couples.
Iris Robinson, the DUP, asked Miss Primarolo: “Can you envisage down the road a child going to primary school and being collected by two females or two males and the bullying and the abuse that these children will be exposed to?
”Or going into the parents' bedroom and finding two women making love or two men making love? And that's natural for a child to see?”
The abortion debate ended with MPs voting on the issue for the first time in 18 years. Mr Cameron hardened his view in the course of Tuesday.
He had originally indicated he would vote for a reduction on the time limit for abortions from 24 to 22 weeks. However, he subsequently decided to back a 20-week limit.
Gordon Brown backed the current limit of 24 weeks.
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