Government aims to ban fertility treatment for single women, lesbians

Fri Apr 19, 3:53 AM ET
By PETER O'CONNOR, Associated Press Writer

CANBERRA, Australia - Australia's conservative government is considering revising federal law to permit states to deny single women and lesbians access to fertility treatments. He said children with a mother and a father had prospects of happier lives.

"Where you are deliberately creating a situation where a child will not have the opportunity of a father, we think that's bad policy," Prime Minister John Howard said Friday.

There is "a very strong likelihood" the government will push for changes to the federal Sex Discrimination Act so that state governments can bar women without a male partner from fertility treatment, Howard said.

Howard's comments came a day after Australia's highest court upheld the right of single women and lesbians to receive fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization.

A panel of seven judges on Australia's highest court Thursday upheld a two-year-old Federal Court decision which said a Victorian state law banning fertility treatment for single women and lesbians was invalid because it contravened the federal Sex Discrimination Act.

The government's chances of pushing through reform of that act are slim. Opposition parties, who outnumber Howard's conservative coalition in the Senate, say they will block the proposed changes.

Prof. Linda Hancock, a spokeswoman for the Women's Electoral Lobby, a respected women's group, also said the organization was "vociferously opposed" to Howard's plans.

"It's ideologically driven, it's discriminatory and it's internationally embarrassing for Australia that our national government wants to undermine laws protecting women from discrimination," she said.

Meanwhile, Howard on Friday would not commit the government to introducing state-funded, paid maternity leave, claiming it discriminated against women and imposed huge costs on taxpayers and employers.

"If you are to impose it on employers, that will actually discriminate against some women because there could well be fewer women employed," he said.

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