News In Brief: UK Votes on “Need for A Father”

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[It’s been a long time since I’ve cross-posted.     Feel free to go to my regular blog, Related Topics, and catch up.]

For some time now the UK parliament has been considering a substantial overhaul of the act that governs ART, abortion, cloning and related topics. (I’ve written about it before a couple of times, once in connection with a widely played story about twins who had unwittedly gotten married.) The legislation is called the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

One clause in the bill under consideration provides that IVF clinics have to take into account the need for “supportive parenting” when they decide to provide service. That may not seem terribly remarkable, but the current language directs consideration of “the need for a father” and during the debate an amendment was offered to restore the “need for a father” language to the proposed bill. The debate culminated in a vote yesterday and is reported here, here and here. The “need for a father” language was defeated, 292-217.

The importance of the “supportive parenting” language for single women and lesbian couples planning to use IVF is apparent. Equally apparent is the deeply gendered ideology that would insist on a father rather than simply a supportive parent. I can’t help but wonder whether anyone considered requiring a supportive father, or whether any male involvement was seen as adequate.

On this morning’s podcast, the Guardian noted that the discussion of this issue got more prominent play in the press then did the discussion of amendments to the abortion provisions contained in the same bill. (These provisions would have reduced the time during which abortion is permitted. The current UK limit is 24 weeks. Efforts to lower the limit to 22, 20 or even 12 weeks all failed.)

It’s surprising to me that the abortion debate gets less press play then the “need for a father.” The analyst on the podcast attributed this to the fact that the “need for a father” is a pure moral/cultural issue while the abortion issue is also subject to scientific analysis.

Finally, a couple of questions in closing. First, I wonder about how frequently lesbians and single women actually use IVF as opposed to alternative insemination. It’s not that I doubt that it happens, but it makes the amount of fuss over this even more surprising to me. Second, I wonder where, if anywhere, gay men play in here. I’ve seen other stories about gay men using surrogacy in the UK. Perhaps that’s without IVF, though, so regulation of IVF clinics has no bearing?

Julie Shapiro (cross-posted to Related Topics)

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