French Senate approves controversial bioethics law, drops key elements

Giant inflatable babies, installed by members of the "Manif Pour Tous" (Demonstration For Everyone) in front of the French Senate in Paris (illustration).
Giant inflatable babies, installed by members of the "Manif Pour Tous" (Demonstration For Everyone) in front of the French Senate in Paris (illustration). REUTERS - GONZALO FUENTES

After two days of confused debate, the French upper house of parliament early on Thursday morning voted in favour of an amended bioethics text, amputating those clauses that would offer the possibility of medically-assisted pregnancies to all women. 


The majority right-wing senators voted to remove two pillars of the controversial legislation.

Ruling party (LaRem) and other senators voted against the revised text, saying it had been deprived of all substance, and was a waste of time.

Apart from refusing the key element of medically-assisted parenthood for all women, an election promise made by Emmanuel Macron, the upper house also rejected provisions which would have allowed women to preserve their own oocyte or egg cells, without any medical justification.

Both amendments can be overturned by parliament when the bill returns to the lower house for its third reading.

What a difference a year makes

When the same legislation came before the Senate twelve months ago, the upper house approved the crucial clauses allowing lesbian couples and single women the right to take advantage of medical technology to become parents. At that time, the senators simply refused that the necessary medical intervention should be paid for by social security.

The position of many right-wing members has clearly hardened since, perhaps because of the approach of elections, due in 2022.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the Republicans group in the Senate, and a possible right-wing presidential candidate in 2022, is resolutely opposed to the opening of parenthood to lesbian couples or single women.

The Junior Minister for Children and Families, Adrien Taquet, of the ruling majority, regretted the way the debate had ended, suggesting that some senators were clearly putting their thinly disguised electoral ambitions before their legislative duties.

Confused debate on controversial issues

In order to prevent the passage of those clauses allowing single women to conceive medically, right wing opponents introduced a measure allowing post-mortem medically-assisted pregnancy, under which a woman could become pregnant using the sperm of a deceased husband. That caused sufficient confusion to force the rejection of the entire first article of the proposed law.

Conscious of the confusion, right-wing senator Alain Milon, who is president of the bioethics commission and himself in favour of medically-assisted pregnancy for all, promised that there would be a second debate on the issue. That promised debate never took place.

Communist senator Laurence Cohen said the failure to hold the additional discussion was "a disgrace," claiming that he and his colleagues had been "tricked".

"The shameful right-wing is incapable of keeping a political promise," Cohen said. "They have damaged the very standing of the Senate."

The conservative action group La Manif Pour Tous (Demonstration for Everyone), founded to contest the right to homosexual marriage in France, and some of whose members staged a demonstration outside the Senate during the bioethics debate, welcomed the decision.

"On behalf of the children," the group said in a twitter message, "we thank the senators for their wisdom."

Various lesbian support groups have described the decision as "lamentable, disgraceful and unworthy".

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