The French Justice Minister's instruction to courts to
accept citizenship applications for children born via surrogates in other
countries has unleashed a political and popular furore.
The minister, Christiane Taubira,
issued the instruction during a debate on gay marriage. Immediately, ministers
from the opposition UMP party accused the government of attempting to underhandedly
introduce liberal legislation on surrogacy and access to IVF for gay
couples. Surrogacy is illegal in France and fertility treatment only available
to heterosexual couples.
After Taubira had presented the instruction to the French parliament, the head of the opposition UMP party, Jean-FranÃ§ois Copé, declared that the government had
'let its mask drop' and that the instruction should immediately be withdrawn.
UMP MP Laurent Wauquiez, who leads a movement calling for a popular
referendum on gay marriage, told a full French parliament that
'this law is just the beginning and [gay couples being entitled to] test-tube
babies and surrogate mothers is where it will all end'.
According to the Associated
Press, the debate 'has sent thousands into the
streets, turned the bridges over the Seine into billboards and prompted charges
that women's bodies will soon be for rent in a society that still has surprisingly
deep conservative roots'.
Faced with such vociferous opposition, both Taubira
and President FranÃ§ois Hollande have sought to clarify their position. Talking to the press
after a cabinet meeting, Taubira said: 'There isn't the slightest change in the
position of either the President or the government. In law surrogacy is
forbidden — there is no debate on that point'.
In fact the instruction concerns only children who
are born via surrogacy overseas and ensures that they will be given French
civil status - similar to nationality - when they arrive in France.
Currently many children born via surrogates exist in
legal limbo with local courts refusing
to grant them French civil status. During the recent debates, Claude Bartolone,
a senior government member, called these people 'the ghosts of the republic' —
a phrase that has caught on in the French media.
But the law has not been applied consistently (see
BioNews 647) and a handful of children have been granted civil status. Speaking
on Radio Classique, Aurélie Filipetti, the French Culture Minister, said that the instruction was
'simply a regularisation for the 40 or so children who find themselves in a
completely Kafkaesque administrative scenario'.
Nonetheless the opposition has vowed to fight on,
despite little chance of success. Philippe Gosselin, an opposition MP, told the
newspaper: 'The text that will get voted through parliament will be mostly
unchanged. But when it comes to surrogacy we will not let up'.