In the UK, accessing NHS-funded fertility treatment is a difficult process for every person trying to conceive. However, an investigation into the experience of female same-sex couples conducted by The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has concluded that they are disproportionately impacted in relation to mixed-sex couples.
This is fertility inequality.
Couples trying to access NHS-funded treatment must first demonstrate that they have struggled to conceive naturally. This policy disproportionality affects female same-sex couples, as their only option is to self-fund between 3 to 12 rounds of artificial insemination (AI).
Local Clinical Commission Groups (CCGs) dictate the number of rounds of AI necessary to access funding, and so provisions are often dependent on a postcode lottery. The type of AI is dependent on the CCG as well, and therefore costs further differ.
With a single round of IUI costing anywhere from £1,600 to over £2,000, it is just not a feasible option for many couples.
For mixed-sex couples, 40% of IVF cycles are funded by the NHS. For same-sex couples, this drops to only 14%.
The discrimination is clear, and campaign groups are calling it a breach of equality law.
Laura-Rose Thorogood, Founder of LGBT Mummies, and Aura Expert, adds:
“It is a human right to be able to have the family you dream of by your chosen route, yet so many women & people within our LGBT+ community have their options limited to them, when it comes to creating a family. This results in many never having children, going down an alternative path to parenthood or going down a route where they and their future child are not protected legally or genetically. Personally, as a married couple, we have been lucky enough to have three children of our own through private fertility treatment, but for many whom we support through LGBT Mummies globally, this dream is unattainable. We ourselves have spent in excess of £50,000 privately to create our family, with our third child being created during the pandemic after multiple cycles (due to secondary infertility). We agree the NHS does not have a 'pot of gold' & is stretched in regards to funding, however if heterosexual people are able to acquire funding over & above LGBT+ people, this is discriminatory & needs to be addressed. We feel that the NHS should either offer funding to all, or if this is not feasible, offer to those (heterosexual & LGBT+) from areas of social deprivation or of low incomes- those who could never afford the extensive costs of private clinical treatment, so they are able to create the family they dream of”.
There are other barriers that the investigation highlighted:
Using donated sperm or eggs is often the only way same-sex couples can successfully conceive, yet three CCGs do not fund any procedure involving donated gametes.
In the case of 31 CCGs, couples cannot get funding for the use of donor sperm in IVF, even if they have previously met the criteria by self-funding AI.
As with all couples trying to get access to NHS-funded fertility treatment, same-sex couples are subject to the same postcode restrictions. Postcode-dependent criteria vary greatly between areas and cause huge differences in care.
NHS-funded fertility treatment is a postcode lottery.
The result is that fertility treatment is just not a viable option for many couples, and unfortunately many give up on trying to have a family.
While the BPAS study focused on female same-sex couples, unfortunately there are also barriers for trans, non-binary, and single people seeking fertility treatment, and research into this, though increasing, is still minimal.
“It is a human right to be able to have the family you dream of by your chosen route” - Laura-Rose Thorogood
The situation is slowly coming to light, and one way you can help change the situation is by signing the petition for fertility equality by wives Whitney and Megan Bacon-Evans, @whatwegandidnext.
The LGBT Mummies purpose is to “Educate, Share, Celebrate” LGBT+ women & people worldwide on the path to motherhood or parenthood. They act as a central source of support & a safe haven through providing information, advice & knowledge on the available routes to starting a family.