LONDON (Reuters) - MPs voted on Tuesday to remove the need for a father when women seek fertility treatment, a move that is expected to make it easier for lesbian couples to access the treatment.
In a shake-up of fertility laws dating from 1990, parliament passed a government bill that says doctors should look for evidence of “supportive parenting” rather than the need for a father when offering in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
The vote precedes a vote later on Tuesday on whether to reduce the upper limit for legal abortions from 24 weeks, the first time Britain has voted on abortion in almost two decades.
Votes on amendments to lower the abortion limit to anywhere from 22 weeks to 12 weeks are due after 10 p.m.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown favours the status quo but many lawmakers argue scientific advances mean babies are more likely to survive and feel pain at an earlier stage in gestation.
Government ministers said removing the need for a father brought fertility laws into line with equal rights and human rights legislation and to retain the need for a father would have been discriminatory against lesbians and single mothers.
“This is about ensuring that this law reflects current practices and family setups and current legislation referring to human rights,” said health minister Dawn Primarolo.
But Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, supporting the need for a father, said a child’s rights should outweigh the human rights of adults to have children.
“We want people to recognise that fathers have a major role to play and if they are not around then lets find a way to make sure their influence can still be found,” he argued.
Smith said the government’s bill sent the message that “fathers are less important than mothers”. He said children of single parents were more likely to experience social problems such as unemployment or alcohol dependence.
The Labour government has so far been successful in its bid to overhaul fertility and embryology legislation.
On Monday, parliament approved a bill to allow human-animal embryo research and to permit parents of children with genetic conditions to use IVF to select “saviour siblings” who can act as donors to save their sick brothers and sisters.
Lowering the abortion limit would bring Britain more in line with other parts of Western Europe.
The legal abortion period is 10 weeks in France, Greece, Denmark, Norway and Portugal and 12 weeks in Germany, Belgium and Austria.
But pro-choice campaigners says science shows there has been no change in a baby’s chance of survival since the current limit was reduced to 24 weeks from 28 weeks almost two decades ago.
Around 200,000 abortions were carried out in Britain in 2006, of which about 3,000 were conducted after 20 weeks — 1.5 percent of the total.
Lawmakers have a free vote on the issue, meaning they don’t have to vote along party lines.
Additional reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Matthew Jones