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Last Updated: Monday, 3 July 2006, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
Fertility rules challenged by MPs
Debate has been fierce on the issue of treatment
MPs have called for an end to the right of fertility clinics to refuse treatment to single women and lesbians.

Currently, clinics must take account of the welfare of the unborn child, including "the need for a father".

Opponents demanded a change in the law, saying the rule discriminates against single women and same-sex couples.

Health Minister Caroline Flint said issues around the "need for a father" were complex and the government was consulting on the issue.

Conservative MP Ann Winterton said the plan was essentially a bid to create fatherless families headed by single or lesbian women.

"Technology may move fast but that does not mean surely that our ethical concerns or the actual philosophical under-pinning of society and the law have altered radically, as the report would have us believe," she said.

'Splendid job'

"We all know of examples of children who have been brought up by single parents, either male or female, who have done a splendid job.

"But to artificially create a new situation is I believe quite wrong."

The debate was triggered by a science and technology committee report on the issue.

Liberal Democrat spokesman and committee member Evan Harris said the requirement for a father was an unnecessary provision because evidence did not show children born to lesbian mothers or 'solo parents' without a partner were "damaged" as a result.

Last year the committee described the current rules regarding unconventional families as "offensive".

Plenty of children are brought up by women on their own
Angela Eagle
Labour MP

"The government won't engage on the issue, but I think it's clearly indirect discrimination," Mr Harris said.

"They are bringing in anti-discrimination legislation in the provision of goods and services - this clearly breaches that.

"They cannot avoid changing it - they are trying to sweep it under the carpet."

According to the Independent on Sunday, the move is backed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Association of Social Workers.

Abortion controversy

They are calling for the child's need for a father to be replaced by "the need for a family", it said.

Ex-Labour minister Angela Eagle told the paper: "It's clear that in coming to any kind of decision about IVF, clinics have to look at many issues, but I don't think it is at all clear that should be based on the assumption of whether there is a man around.

"Plenty of children are brought up by women on their own."

Three million IVF births have taken place across the world since Louise Brown became the first "test tube" baby in Britain 28 years ago.

Medical advances

Between 1989 and 2002, the number of IVF babies increased from 30,000 to 200,000.

The debate is likely to reignite controversy on lowering the 24-week abortion limit.

The committee has recommended setting up a joint committee of MPs and peers to consider whether the present time limit should be shortened.

More than 50 MPs have signed a Commons motion supporting the move, and the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales used a meeting with Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt in June to reinforce the demands.

Doctors have voted against demands for a new 20-week abortion limit to recognise medical advances which allow very premature babies to survive.

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