PARIS—More than most countries, France is forever caught between theory and practice, Catholicism and Enlightenment science, tradition and innovation, universalism and individual rights. Perhaps nothing illustrates that tension better than the heated debate unfolding here over the biggest social issue on President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda: a bill that would lift some of France’s restrictions on access to fertility treatments.
The proposed changes, some of which have already been approved and the rest of which are likely to pass, would grant single women, regardless of their sexual orientation, access to treatments such as in vitro fertilization and sperm donation, paid for by the national health system. These have previously been legal in France only for heterosexual couples who have been married or in civil partnerships for at least two years, and whom a doctor has determined are sterile or have medical risks requiring fertility treatments. The proposed law would also lift the anonymity of sperm donors, to allow children born from donors access to information about their biological origins.
Despite France’s general baby-friendliness—tax breaks for families, subsidized child care that helps mothers quickly return to work without stigma—the country has some of Europe’s most restrictive laws on access to fertility treatments. This is a product of a mélange of Catholic heritage, conservative bioethics, intensely complex anthropological and structuralist debates about kinship and whether identity is shaped by nature or culture, and a widespread discomfort on both the right and left with a market for elements of human reproduction.