Among the many amazing plans put forward in the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy in July 2022, it includes plans to remove additional barriers to accessing fertility treatments for female same-sex couples.
The stated aims of the strategy include:
This brings huge win for LGBTQ+ Families! Currently, the majority of CCG’s require same-sex female couples (and single women) to self-fund 6-12 rounds of artificial insemination (intra-uterine insemination, IUI) before being entitled to IVF on the NHS. This forces female same-sex couples to pay tens of thousands of pounds in artificial inseminations in expensive private clinics to prove that they are infertile before they are eligible for any fertility treatment on the NHS. However, cis heterosexual couples can qualify for IVF on the NHS if they have not become pregnant after two years of unprotected sex, which has its emotional toll but with no financial cost. This financial barrier on the LGBTQ+ community pushes some into debt and others into dangerous situations, or giving up on being able to create a family at all.
Fertility equality campaigners Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans welcomed the announcement. They have been campaigning for Fertility Equality since 2020 and launched a judicial review legal challenge against their local NHS health board (Frimley ICB) in October 2021 on the basis that the current IVF policy discriminated against lesbian couples. Megan and Whitney also spoke in Parliament and contributed to the LGBT+ Commission Inquiry report.
Frimley ICB (formerly known as Frimley Clinical Commissioning Group) currently requires same-sex couples seeking one cycle of NHS funded IVF treatment to undergo 12 cycles of intra-uterine insemination (IUI) at their own cost, with six of those being carried out in a clinical setting.
The legal case is currently ongoing but it is hoped that the new government strategy will prompt a change to the Frimley ICB policy.
The Government has announced that they intend for this change to be rolled out from April 2023. In a statement to reporter Ellie Costello, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social care said:
“This policy change means same-sex female couples can access NHS-funded fertility services in a more equitable way. We intent this change to take effect from April 2023”.
While this is a positive step, there are many unanswered questions and also a long way to go until equality for all is achieved.
This post will be updated of any further developments.
Whitney and Megan Bacon-Evans stated:
“We are delighted by the plans set out in the Women’s Health Strategy to remove discriminatory barriers to artificial insemination and IVF for female same-sex couples across England. Since launching our legal challenge we have heard from same-sex couples about the expensive and time-consuming hoops they have had to jump through to access fertility treatment. We hope that this new strategy will level the playing field and achieve fertility equality for all and will be implemented swiftly to ensure that more loving families will be able to begin their journeys into parenthood. We expect Frimley NHS board to follow the government’s lead and end its policy of discrimination. We will be bringing this strategy to the attention of the court.”
Beatrice Morgan, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day representing Megan and Whitney, said:
“From the detail we have seen, the new Women’s Health Strategy looks to be an important step forward in achieving equality for same-sex couples accessing artificial insemination and IVF treatment through the NHS. Megan and Whitney have worked tirelessly for the last year to fight a legal challenge and bring this issue to national attention. We hope that the new Strategy is implemented swiftly and consistently across England to end the postcode lottery that same-sex couples currently face. Following the announcement of the new Strategy, we expect Frimley IHB to announce a change in its assisted conception policy immediately.”
Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall said:
“We are delighted that the UK Government has listened to our call for fair and equal access to IVF treatment… This is a giant step towards a world where LGBTQ+ people have the same opportunity as everyone else to build a loving, thriving family of their own.”
Find out what your current eligibility criteria is in your area via Stonewall’s Postcode Tool checker.
Megan and Whitney are represented by solicitor Beatrice Morgan of Leigh Day and barristers Jude Bunting QC of Doughty Street Chambers and Marlena Valles of Blackstone Chambers.
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