Lesbian women undergoing fertility treatment will be able to name female partners as a ‘second parent’ on their children’s birth certificates under controversial changes to be implemented next week. Ministers are pushing ahead with new regulations despite criticism that they represent another blow to traditional family values. The Government is also removing the need for IVF clinics to consider a child’s ‘need for a father’ when approving fertility treatment. For women who are in a civil partnership and who use donor sperm, the lesbian partner will automatically be named unless they make a written objection.
Single women who give birth using IVF will be allowed to nominate another woman to share legal parentage, whether or not they are in a civil partnership. The ‘second parent’ in such circumstances will have to give their written consent. The change will apply to many of the 2,000 women a year who have IVF using sperm from anonymous donors. There is concern that the new arrangements will create a legal minefield, since ‘second parents’ named on birth certificates will assume the legal rights and responsibilities of biological parents. They could fight for visitation rights and be chased for child support payments if their relationship with the mother breaks down.
Critics also warn that ‘second parents’ could be nominated in much the same way that godparents are now, since it will be impossible to prove whether someone selected by a single mother not in a civil partnership really is a long-term partner or not. Labour MP Geraldine Smith said: 'To have a birth certificate with two mothers and no father is just madness. 'Common sense has completely gone out of the window. It’s very unfair on the children for the state to be colluding to hide their real genetic parentage. The birth certificate 'I think it’s putting the interests of adults first, rather than the welfare of the unborn child, and that’s contrary to the way the system has always worked in the past.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries said the change sent the wrong message to society on the importance of the traditional family. ‘Everything indicates that a mother and father looking after children in the traditional unit works best,’ she said. ‘This move further undermines that model and sends out the wrong message.’
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said: 'It’s a peculiarly postmodern way of looking at the world, with almost any family arrangement seen as equally valid. 'My criticism of this is that effectively it creates a legal fiction around the parentage of children. The names of people on the birth certificate will have no relationship at all to the child. 'It will create a legal minefield when it comes to issues like maintenance and inheritance. ‘The best interests of the child should always take precedence over parental choice. It’s tragic that we are creating life in these kind of circumstances when there’s a huge amount that could be done for existing children, in terms of adoption.’
Under provisions in Labour’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, fertility doctors will no longer have to have to consider a child’s need for a male role model, simply ‘supportive parenting’.
The Archbishop of York led religious objections to the Government’s proposals, claiming they were designed to remove the father from the heart of the family. Dr John Sentamu warned that ministers were putting the interests of ‘consumers’ who wanted to become parents before the welfare of children. Polls found that eight out of ten people believe a child has a right to two parents and that six out of ten believe that a child should have male and female parents. Critics accuse Labour of a systematic attempt to undermine traditional family roles. It has removed the traditional terms ‘husband’, ‘wife’ and ‘spouse’ from a wide range of official forms, and replaced them with the word ‘partner’.
Ruth Hunt, of gay rights group Stonewall, said the change in the law would end discrimination. ‘Now lesbian couples in Britain who make a considered decision to start a loving family will finally be afforded equal access to services they help fund as taxpayers,’ she said.