• France's news in English
 

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
Guestblog - "J'aime McDo"
Why do the French love McDonald's so much?
Why do the French love McDonald's? Photo: AFP

Why do the French love McDonald's so much?

In the country that invented haute cuisine – Janine Marsh, editor of The Good Life France, asks "Just why are the French so-Mcdo-pro?" READ  

Uber suspends UberPop service in France
Taxi drivers called for an end to UberPop and they've got what they wanted, for now at least. Photo: AFP

Uber suspends UberPop service in France

Uber announced on Friday that it will be suspending its UberPop in France a week after the government and taxi drivers declared war on the controversial service. READ  

Travel warnings as France heads on holiday
Being stuck in a car or a train will not be pleasant this weekend. Photo: AFP

Travel warnings as France heads on holiday

It promises to be a hot weekend on roads around France and not just because of the heatwave. With the summer holidays about to start, warnings have been issued to motorists. READ  

Tour de France to take place amid tight security
Photo: AFP

Tour de France to take place amid tight security

The Tour de France, the world's most famous bike race gets underway on Saturday with French authorities promising security will be their top priority with the country on heightened terror alert. READ  

US orders a million donuts from France
A box of donuts, one million of which will be on there way from France to the US.

US orders a million donuts from France

Imagine a French customer putting an order in with a US firm to send one million croissants over the Atlantic. Well, the opposite happened this week. READ  

IN PICTURES
Angry French farmers send out distress call

Angry French farmers send out distress call

Tyres were set on fire, roads were blocked and manure dumped outside supermarkets on Thursday as thousands of struggling French farmers, angry at low prices, staged protests across the country. READ  

Paris steps up campaign to keep McDonald's out

Paris steps up campaign to keep McDonald's out

Paris Town Hall sent a clear message to McDonald’s this week, telling the US fast food giant, it would do “everything possible” to stop it opening a new giant outlet in an historic area of the capital. READ  

Calais migrants' crisis
UK to aid French efforts to stem flow of migrants
Riot police push migrants away from trucks on the outskirts of Calais. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

UK to aid French efforts to stem flow of migrants

Britain agreed on Thursday to stump up extra funding to help deal with the worsening migrants crisis around the Channel port of Calais. A campaign will also be launched to try to convince them that Britain is no el dorado. READ  

French pensioner freed after 'sex with pony'
This is not the pony involved in the story. Photo: Steve lodefink/Flickr

French pensioner freed after 'sex with pony'

A 74-year-old Frenchman who was caught in the act of having sex with a pony this week has walked free after escaping punishment, French media has reported. READ  

Heatwave to hit start of French holiday season
Rail passengers forced to walk along the tracks after a power outage at Paris's Gare Saint Lazare. Photo: Nicolas Mely/Twitter

Heatwave to hit start of French holiday season

With 51 départements now on alert for the heatwave - almost half of the country - the extreme heat is promising to disrupt the start of the French summer holiday season, particularly on the railways. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
GPS helps blind French hikers cross mountains
National
Dreading the heatwave in France? Here's how to survive the sun
National
Brits might have the brighter economy but are the French happier?
Ryanair or French air traffic controllers: Who would you support?
How life will change in France as of July 1st
These are best places in Paris to escape the heatwave
Ten beaches in France where you'd love to be during the heatwave
Calais chaos: Travellers left to curse 'striking French'
Society
Why the French are right to strike (but perhaps not burn tracks)
Why France doesn't have much to lose from a Grexit
National
Frenchwoman dies as bungee jump ends in tragedy
Travel
The most beautiful French villages you've never heard of
National
Can we really feel any sympathy for French taxi drivers?
Feigned French shock over US spying is not fooling anyone
Gallery
When Franco-American relations turn sour - Ten transatlantic scraps
Sport
Dozens fall violently ill after 'mud race' in France
How a genetically modified 'jellyfish-lamb' ended being eaten in France
Culture
Ten must-visit movie scene locations in Paris
National
Paris to return historic squares to the people
Forget Nutella here's eight things the French should really give up
Sport
What the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would look like
It's time to lay off the French - They are not that rude
National
Just look at what France has given the United States over the years
Health
France's creaking health service must change if it wants to stay world's best
National
French warn UK: 'Brexit could be your Waterloo'
Europe commemorates 200 years since Waterloo
National
Waterloo: What you need to know about Napoleon
French told stop eating Nutella to save planet
Is it time for France's empty churches to be turned into mosques?
French people told to stop scoffing Nutella in order to save planet
Society
French school teacher shows his pupils porn film
National
IN PICTURES: See the blaze that ravaged a French basilica
Video: Tourists shocked by Calais migrants scramble
The French words the English language needs to steal right now
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Travel
13 ways France aims to become more welcoming to tourists
Education
Expat parents protest changes to admissions for Paris bilingual schools
Education
Test yourself: Just how good is your French grammar?
Travel
France to spend 'hundreds of millions' on tourism
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

3,391
jobs available