Confronting the Threat of Stable Two-Parent Families


Calls for further regulation of the U.S. fertility industry are often framed as requests for an innocuous "national dialogue" about reproductive technologies. Britain, having created the Human Embryology and Fertility Authority, has helpfully transformed every minor reproductive issue into such a dialogue. Here's what that elevated reproductive democracy looks like:

Proposals to make it easier for lesbian and gay couples to have IVF babies have been heavily criticised in the Lords.

A number of peers opposed moves to remove a requirement for IVF clinics to consider "the need of that child for a father" before offering treatment.

They said it would be a "huge error" and the Lords should reaffirm the importance of both parents.

Under existing law, a partner has to apply to "adopt" the child.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, was among critics—he argued that the government was putting "the right to be a parent over the welfare of a child".

He said there was "all the difference in the world" between a single-parent family and a fatherless child "by design"

"And this is precisely what the government proposes in this Bill—the removal by design of the father of the child."

Another crossbencher, Lord Alton, added: "The government decision to remove the reference for a need for a father is a huge error."

"An estimated 800,000 children in Britain already have no contact with their father and to deliberately add to their number seems to me to be downright irresponsible."

Debates like this become confused in a way that actual individuals seeking IVF never seem to. If the number 800,000 is alarming, it is alarming because a significant number of those children are growing up in single parent households, and single parent households are correlated with a variety of negative outcomes. But the law being proposed would offer couples the full rights of parenthood, whereas current law allows only the woman carrying the baby to initially claim those rights. Alton's argument is something like saying that we can't allow substitute teachers in government schools, since an alarming number of kids don't have teachers at all.

Opponents of IVF like to conflate the legal/social category of father with the biological fact of fatherhood. To say that a bill like this constitutes "the removal by design of the father of the child" suggests a total inability to separate the need for a gamete from the need for a guardian. Some lesbian couples would like to buy gametes. They don't need a third parental figure. This is not difficult for IVF-seeking lesbians to understand, but it tends to be very difficult for archbishops to understand.