The Australian federal government has taken action to prevent single and lesbian women from accessing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment in the latest step of an ongoing legal battle. Prime Minister John Howard has denied MPs a conscience vote on the controversial measure—a measure that the Australian Medical Association denounced as discriminatory. The cabinet is also planning to change the Sex Discrimination Act so that states could limit IVF treatment to heterosexual couples.
The government has been waiting for a High Court decision in the case of a single Melbourne woman, Ms Leesa Meldrum, who has been campaigning for 10 years to have access to IVF.
Her home state of Victoria's Infertility Treatment Act banned single and lesbian women from IVF treatment, but a federal court found that the ban was in violation of the federal Sex Discrimination Act. Australia's Catholic bishops sought, and have just failed, to overturn this ruling in the High Court.
Mr Howard first intervened in the debate two years ago, arguing that it was the right of every child to have both a father and mother as “role models.” “We do take the view that, all things being equal, children are entitled to the opportunity of both a mother and a father,” he said.
The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Kerryn Phelps, said that the government's attempted ban was a “false and misleading excuse” to support what she considered were discriminatory laws. “It's disgraceful that the government is proposing discriminatory legislation against single women and lesbians,” she said.
She also attacked Mr Howard's stand that children of same sex parents were somehow disadvantaged, claiming that international research had found no difference in the children's outcomes.