• 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

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?"

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ten things to do in France before Christmas
There's some great things to do in France before Christmas. Photo: AFP

Ten things to do in France before Christmas

With Christmas just round the corner, we've put together ten great festive and not-so-festive events happening around France in December to help you brave the cold and have a ball. READ  

More violent storms set for south of France
The south of France is set to be hit by more rough weather. Photo:AFP

More violent storms set for south of France

The south of France is set to be lashed by more extreme weather with some 12 departments placed on alert for floods on Thursday after violent storms and heavy rain were forecast. READ  

Economists urge 'meek' France to be bold
Photo: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP

Economists urge 'meek' France to be bold

A top level economic report on Thursday urged European heavyweights France and Germany to implement urgent economic reforms, warning that Europe risked falling into a "stagnation trap." READ  

New pills that make flatulence smell like roses
Christian Poincheval, the man behind the scented-flatulence pills. Photo: Pilulepet.com

New pills that make flatulence smell like roses

A Frenchman may have come up with the perfect solution to one of life's major problems after he claimed to have invented a pill that makes bodily gases smell like roses and chocolate READ  

France and Russia
Russia's Christmas gift to Paris raises eyebrows
From Russia...with love? Paris's diplomatic relations with Moscow have been strained by the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. Photo: Pierre Verdy/AFP

Russia's Christmas gift to Paris raises eyebrows

Cash-strapped Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has been handed a gigantic Christmas tree as a gift by an unlikely benefactor: Russia. But questions are being asked whether there is an ulterior motive behind the Christmas present. READ  

Farmers cry wolf in Paris over sheep 'massacre'
Sheep graze under the Eiffel Tower, as their shepherds protest against wolf attacks. Photo: Patrick Kovarick/AFP

Farmers cry wolf in Paris over sheep 'massacre'

Sheep grazed around the Eiffel Tower on Thursday as angry French farmers flocked to the capital to express their frustration over increasing attacks by wolves which some say have been "overprotected" by the government. READ  

Opinion - Lending to Le Pen
'France must ban foreign loans to political parties'
Whether or not Putin's attempts to meddle in French politics were the reason behind a €9 million loan to the National Front, it has to be forbidden, a lawmaker tells The Local. Photo:AFP

'France must ban foreign loans to political parties'

News that France's far-right National Front party had secured a €9 million loan from a Russian bank sent tremors through the French political class and prompted a French lawmaker to propose a bill to outlaw the practice. He told The Local why it was necessary. READ  

Paris holds on to title of world's best student city
There were a staggering 96,782 foreigners studying in Paris in 2013. Photo of student in Paris: Shutterstock

Paris holds on to title of world's best student city

Paris has clinched top spot in the global "Best Student Cities" rankings for the third year running, beating off stiff opposition from the likes of Melbourne, London and Boston. READ  

Napoleon's locks to be put in Swiss watches
Detail of portrait of Napoleon by painter Jacques-Louis David (1812).

Napoleon's locks to be put in Swiss watches

Napoleon's admirers will be able to carry his DNA on their wrists after a Swiss company announced Tuesday its plans to sell watches containing a fragment of the emperor's hair. READ  

Angry French women shame gynos on Twitter
French women shame gynecologists on Twitter. Gynaecology photo: Shutterstock

Angry French women shame gynos on Twitter

French women fed up with inappropriate comments or behaviour from gynaecologists have taken to Twitter in their thousands to vent their spleen. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Education
Is Paris really the best place in the world to be a student?
Society
The things gynecologists say that drive French women mad
Sponsored Article
Win a €250 voucher for your Christmas list
National
A pill to make flatulence smell like roses? A Frenchman has cracked it
Culture
Rare 400-year-old Shakespeare work found in northern France
National
Paris air pollution: 'It's like being in a room with eight smokers'
National
From infidelity to sexual needs: How French women have changed in 30 years
National
Billboards to be replaced by trees - the bold move by one French city
Gallery
French government gives 10 reasons to be proud: No. 1 - The Economy
Politics
France's 'first ladies': A look back at the other halves
National
Would background music make the RER in Paris feel safer?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
National
Trierweiler to break her silence... in the UK
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Winter is coming to the French Alps
Gallery
Don't confuse France with Paris: Here's ten reasons why
Sponsored Article
Live like a local - anywhere in the world
National
From the homeless to migrants: A portrait of modern France in ten stats
Culture
Are you brainy enough to be Miss France? Take the quiz
Gallery
France's most notorious celebrities. How many do you know?
Society
City of Love? Seven Paris myths debunked
Education
Why is France worst in the EU at English?
National
C'est pas possible! Paris is 'world's cheapest city for young people'
National
Looking to save space? France allows toilets in kitchens for first time
National
Find out how women in France are getting stung for a hidden tax
Culture
Which one is your favourite? The top 10 heartiest French winter dishes
Face Of The Week
Nabilla - 'France's Kim Kardashian' held for attempted murder
National
So who's scaring everyone by flying drones over France’s nuclear plants?
Education
Whoever thinks French was a dying language should read this
Politics
OPINION: 'One day France will be grateful to François Hollande'
Gallery
IN IMAGES: A history of France's most controversial architecture
National
How to make an 8-square-metre Paris apartment perfectly liveable
Gallery
VIDEO: France's raunchiest TV ads, including that infamous Perrier one
National
Five reasons why you should work a ski season in France and five not to
National
10 art exhibitions not to miss this autumn in Paris
Culture
What's on in France: 11 things to do this November
National
How French have you become? Take our quiz to find out
National
10 things to never say to a French person
National
Top 10: When French translations go wrong
National
Parisian bars that serve drinkers free meals
National
France falls to Germans in nude swim tourney
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
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