• France edition
 
Hopeful French lesbians join exodus to Belgium
Photo: Oriana Eliçabe

Hopeful French lesbians join exodus to Belgium

Published: 11 Jan 2013 10:40 GMT+01:00
Updated: 11 Jan 2013 10:40 GMT+01:00

Some 2,000 babies conceived in Belgium through artificial insemination by donor are thought to be born each year to French lesbian couples, who are not eligible to undergo the procedure in France.

"We have seen a sharp increase in demand over the past three years. The word is getting around in France, our patients are passing the message along," said Professor Michel Dubois at the University Hospital of Liege, in the southeast of the country.

The children thus conceived even have a nickname – "Thalys babies" – after the high-speed train service between Brussels and Paris on which their mothers shuttle back and forth – sometimes for years – in their quest to become parents.

Plans by France's Socialist government to extend marriage and adoption rights to gay couples have proven deeply divisive, igniting fierce protests from opponents including Catholic and Muslim leaders, with a new mass rally planned in Paris for Sunday.

Reflecting the heated debate, ruling party lawmakers agreed Wednesday to drop an amendment expanding access to artificial insemination services from the same-sex marriage legislation.

By contrast Belgium, which has allowed same-sex civil marriages since 2003 and prides itself on its gay rights record,  artificial insemination is available to all "regardless of civil status or sexual orientation" under a 2007 law. 

The country has become a mecca of sort for lesbian couples, with 18 centres nationwide offering the procedure and catering to an overwhelming majority of French women. "French mothers accounted for 80 percent of the 833 artificial insemination cases we handled last year," said Dubois.

At the largest hospital in Brussels, the Erasmus University Hospital, demand is such that it allows only two days a year for patients to phone and arrange consultations.

"In just an hour and a half, all the appointments available for the next six months are taken. That causes a lot of frustration but there is nothing we can do about it," said Anne Delbaere of the hospital's fertility clinic.

‘Dozens of trips back and forth'

Those French lesbians who manage to get an appointment then embark on a long, difficult and sometimes painful journey but when things go right, it is worth the agony, they say.

"It was torture but we happily forgot all about that when Achilles was born," said Katell Thepault, a midwife from near Nantes in western France. "It took more than three years, with dozens of trips back and forth to Brussels for what turned out to be nine artificial inseminations and two in-vitro fertilisations," Thepault, 35, said.

Everything, her personal life with her partner and her working career, all turned around these trips. "It was impossible to know in advance when we would have to go to Brussels. We were given only 48 hours’ notice. We would drive at night, for eight hours," she said.

And the cost? "It was really expensive. We nearly gave up when the artificial insemination did not work and we had to try the in-vitro procedure," at a cost of about 3,000 euros, Thepault said. For a simple insemination the cost ranges from 350 to 500 euros.

For Marie, also mother to a 'Thalys Baby', "it was galling to have to spend so much money when (French) heterosexual couples get the cost reimbursed. It would be much less hypocritical if women could get this service in France because the politicians know very well that we go to Belgium or Spain for it," she said.

Even in Belgium, there are some limits to the principle of open access for lesbians. Some fertility centres have traditional links with the Catholic church – a powerful opponent of the French government's plans – and so prefer not to take on lesbian couples.

Other medical centres limit the help offered to French and other foreign mothers so as to ensure there are enough services available to local women. Brussels' Erasmus University Hospital accordingly treats only perhaps a 100 foreign women a year.

"It is a decision we had to take because of a shortage of sperm donors and a sharp increase in demand for help in cases not caused by infertility problems," said Delbaere.

Delbaere says she cannot understand the French reluctance to grant lesbians access to medically-assisted procreation, which is offered only to heterosexual couples facing fertility problems.

"It seems to me that they just do not want to accept a reality which has been there for a long time now. These children, these families are there now, whether one likes it or not. Why continue to deny it?"

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France's jobless rate hits new record high
France's jobless rate just keeps creeping up. Photo: AFP

France's jobless rate hits new record high

The number of people out of work in crisis-hit France hit a new high in July, official statistics published on Wednesday showed, in another blow for President Francois Hollande. READ  

'I love business': French PM woos employers
French PM Manuel Valls is applauded by employer's union chief Pierre Gattaz. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

'I love business': French PM woos employers

A day after naming a new reformist cabinet French PM Manuel Valls faced members of the country’s powerful employers' union, who gave him a standing ovation after telling them "I love business" and that France and Germany needed to stay close. READ  

IN IMAGES: Artists unveil mechanical dragon
A famous French arts troupe has unveiled its 'dragon'. Photo: Jean-Sebastian Evrard/AFP

IN IMAGES: Artists unveil mechanical dragon

A legendary French artistic collective has raised the curtain on its latest outlandish creation: a massive fire breathing mechanical dragon that is headed for China. See photos and video of the beast here. READ  

Ebola: Air France stops flights to Sierra Leone
Air France has suspended flights to Sierra Leone due to the Ebola outbreak.

Ebola: Air France stops flights to Sierra Leone

France's flagship airline Air France announced on Wednesday it was suspending flights to Sierra Leone from Thursday because of an Ebola outbreak that has killed at least 1,400 people in West Africa. READ  

Paris set to welcome four new tourist attractions
What is it? A spaceship? No it's an art-gallery. Photo: Louis Vuitton Foundation

Paris set to welcome four new tourist attractions

The Local takes a look at four Paris attractions that are set to open or be completed in the coming weeks. There's plenty for art lovers, shoppers and those with a good head for heights. READ  

Opinion - France and Germany
'Merkel now needs to meet Hollande halfway'
That's close enough. Merkel needs to meet Hollande half way to help him Photo: AFP

'Merkel now needs to meet Hollande halfway'

After the French president ousted his rebel Economy Minister for an outspoken attack on Germany and replaced him with a social liberal ex-banker, political commentator Stefan Ulrich argues that Chancellor Angela Merkel now needs to repay the favour. READ  

IMF chief Lagarde 'charged' in French probe
Christine Lagarde, who revealed she had been charged on Wednesday after being questioned as part of a corruption investigation. Photo: AFP

IMF chief Lagarde 'charged' in French probe

The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde has been placed under formal investigation in France on allegations of "negligence" after a probe into suspected corruption dating from her time as French finance minister. READ  

Emmanuel Macron
Ten facts about France's economics whizzkid
Here are ten things you need to know about the man in charge of France's economy. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Ten facts about France's economics whizzkid

From his elite education to a scandal involving a married teacher 20 years his senior, here's are ten things you need to know about France's 36-year-old Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron. READ  

France sees steep rise in deaths of street children
Homeless children pictured on the streets of Paris. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

France sees steep rise in deaths of street children

New figures released this week laid bare the problem of homelessness in France with 454 people living on the streets having died last year. That total included 15 children, which was a steep rise on the previous year. READ  

France's New Government
Hollande plays final card as he splits from left
Presidnet François Hollande and in the background his new Economy Minister - the former Rothschild banker, Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

Hollande plays final card as he splits from left

France's embattled president played his final card this week in naming his third government that included a former Rothschild banker as Economy Minister. The move was a clear, but potentially hazardous break from the left of his party. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Ten things you need to know about France's economics whizzkid
International
VIDEO: Watch the top five street scams to avoid in Paris
Politics
Take a look at the bulging to-do list that awaits France's new government
Politics
Six questions for France after Hollande ousts rebels
International
Choosing schools in France: Do you go international or French?
Gallery
From kissing to bad-mouthing: Ten ways expats in France drive you mad
Culture
Ten things you need to know about the Liberation of Paris:
Travel
Watch this impressive time lapse video and you'll want to move to Paris
National
Veiled Muslim woman on a French beach prompts politician's angry rant
Travel
Forget Paris and Provence where are the least touristy areas of France?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The battle to liberate Paris from the Nazis
National
What France means to you in just one tweet
National
15 French 'false friends' you need to watch out for
International
12 reasons to invest in Paris and seven not to
National
French hamlet 'Death to Jews' mulls name change
National
French tourist caught in Pompeii brothel romp
International
'Forget the Anglo-media's image of France, the reality is much different'
Culture
VIDEO: Francophile Robin Williams enjoyed poking fun at the French
Travel
Six reasons why France is the world's top tourist destination
International
Remembering the 'forgotten campaign' in the liberation of France
Gallery
VIDEO: French bucket list - The 12 best things to do in France
International
Do three French cities deserve to be in top 10 "World 's Most Unfriendly"?
Gallery
Don't make a faux pas! Ten things not to do when working in France
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se