Random thoughts about the IVF debate

The more I think about this IVF issue the more layers it gets. Here’s a few random thoughts that have popped up in my head – please throw yours in too and we’ll try for a synthesis of facets, meanings and consequences.


Many people – religious and otherwise – don’t like IVF per se. They think it interferes with what should be a rather more natural conception process. Where to draw the line these days is a big issue – with fertility drugs, artificial insemination?

The real question in this debate is that since IVF is here to stay, should it be available on a non-discriminatory basis? It’s not good enough for the Catholic Church leadership to see a discriminatory restriction on IVF as a win in the battle to ban IVF, because a ban is not realistic.


The silence of female Liberal MPs is eerie. There are several feminist women in the Party who have fought as individuals for a woman’s right to control her reproduction. They’ve fought battles for the pill and for abortion.

Now the sheer populist appeal of Howard’s stand and the party-political joys of watching Labor tear itself apart have seen these women either not return calls or call back to say they won’t comment. Goodbye Liberal feminism when the chips are down. Remember, there has been no partyroom decision on this.

As of today Labor has no policy on the matter, despite the fact that the Sex Discrimination Act was a Hawke Labor government achievement against great odds.

This means that advocates of women’s rights are reliant only on the Democrats and the Greens in the public debate. So sad. It’s not even a fair fight in the sphere of public conversation.

It’s at times like these that you realise the terrible injustice of having so few women in federal politics. They’re just another minority when it comes to issues that are central to women but on which men have all sorts of emotions, prejudices and fears they seem to need to force down women’s throats.


But wait. The Sex Discrimination Act was the result of fierce lobbying by an activist women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s. They were radical, ideological and deeply committed to the cause.

Since then, feminist has in some respects become mainstream, and young women have in many cases come to believe that discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status is over.

This debate could bring the generations together at last. Older feminists can remember the old battles, younger women will discover the excitement of the repeat performance. Both groups will teach each other. This could be the rebirth of feminist activism. Watch out, John.


Do Australians really want to be told by the State what to do in their personal life? The strength of that strand of the Australian psyche will be tested in this debate. Howard looks like he’s on a sure winner, but when you polarise opinion so hard on lifestyle as Howard has done on this one, you just never know.

I remember attending an Opposition party hosted by Peter Reith many years ago, and having a spirited debate with John Howard on citizenship initiated referenda. No way, I said, citing majority opinion in favour of capital punishment.

Howard accused me of elitism. He said he too opposed capital punishment, but believed passionately that a sustained debate on its merits leading up to a referendum would see Australians vote no.

Well John, here comes the debate. With Labor so split, this one will be fought mainly at a grassroots level, in town protests, public meetings, and over dinner tables.


Banning discrimination on the grounds of marital status helps married women, and single women, married men and single men. The Sex Discrimination Act was riddled with exceptions after tumultuous public debate. The Act helped decide who we were and what we believed in. Some exceptions have since gone as the slow progression to judging people on their merits continued.

I see this reopening of the discrimination debate as an aspect of Howard’s CULTURAL rollback setting itself up against Labor’s GST rollback. Open the gate to discrimination and the potential consequences are horrifying. He has coopted the human rights debate to suit his ends – speaking of the right of the child to a mother and father involved in his or her upbringing.

How ironic – a man who has trashed the human rights discourse as irrelevant when it comes to race discrimination (Wik) and the right to a fair trial (mandatory sentencing) suddenly turns it all around when it suits his value system to do so. Human rights should not be treated as political footballs to be forgotten if unpopular and promoted if popular.

I have never heard of a child’s right to a mother and father involved in his or her upbringing before, but Howard’s invention means, by definition, that this new right should be enforceable. Should a child be able to sue his or her mother for failing to ensure a father on hand?

Should the State enforce the right to a father by requiring him to participate in the child’s upbringing.?

Should the State take a child away from a family without a live-in father and put him or her into a family which has one?

Imagine how the debate changes if the IVF criteria include the requirement that the mother should be able to show that the child will be brought up with love, with the family involved, however constituted, willing and able to provide the necessary physical, emotional and intellectual support.

This is not a right – it cannot be given the failures of many parents – but it is an obligation which the State should be satisfied of before providing financial assistance for IVF. This approach does concern itself with the welfare of the child – John Howard’s approach merely discriminates on the basis of his preferred family model. Guess what John, the overwhelming majority of child abuse is perpetrated by live in fathers or step fathers. Guess what John, most homosexuals were born of straight parents, and on my anecdotal experience, all children of homosexual parents are straight.

The Liberals’ core philosophy of respect for individual choice has been replaced by John Howard’s moral fundamentalism.


A lesbian friend of mine had a baby two years ago. A male friend donated his sperm. She needed fertility drugs to conceive, and if that hadn’t worked, she was prepared to incur the expense and pain of IVF.

The father has agreed to be identified as her son’s father when he asks the question. He visits every few months to say Hi. My friend has been assiduous in having male friends involved with her son, so he has male role models. Her son is healthy, happy and loved. She finds it hard to mange her full-time job and being with her son as much as she wants, and has asked her employer to consider letting her work part time, because she wants more time with him.

Her stated reaction to Howard’s announcement was outrage at the financial inequity of it all. She pays her taxes and her Medicare levy. Yet that was just cover for her devastation. Howard has told her the State disapproves of who she is, how she lives her life, and her capacity as a mother, without knowing who she is as a person.

Howard has never been for all of us, and now he is getting more explicit in saying which of us he targets for discrimination. My friend is fighting back. At her son’s birthday party tomorrow, her friends, gay and straight, will bring their children on the understanding that they want to be interviewed by the local paper. They want to say my friend is a good mother and that her son has the rights most children don’t have.


To me, a child should have a right to know who his or her father is. That’s the basis on which adopted children now have rights to access their adoption records. There is a real debate to be had on the identity confusion that can result when a child has no way of finding out who his or her father is. Personally, I could accept State intervention to insist that State funded procedures to help a woman get pregnant include that requirement. But that isn’t what this is really all about, is it, John.


This is an exchange between a listener to Melbourne Radio 3AW and our Prime Minister this morning.


I’m a lesbian. I have a child. I didn’t go through IVF because it wasn’t available to me. I took the risk of getting AIDS to have a child. I changed my career to make sure I could be home after school and also thought every long and hard before I did it. Also something else I have heard you say is that its a lifestyle choice. Well when I was 17 and realised (I was a lesbian) I definitely wanted to be was a parent. There is nothing I could do about being a lesbian, but there was something I could do about being a parent and I thought long and hard, and I am a damn good parent with a wonderful son who excels at school, who gets fed, looked after, better than the children that I work with with two parents that are drug addicted, 25, with five children and one on the way and they could be entitled to IVF but I can’t. Can you answer me, where is the logic in this?



Lisa, it is not just a question of the government intervening in something which is intensely personal because there are public resources made available in relation to IVF, so therefore the government does have a role. I mean the idea that governments who are the representatives of the entire community have no role at all in relation to a service which is in part at least funded by the general community of taxpayers is wrong.

Now I don’t criticise in any way or denigrate in any way your affection towards your child. Equally I dont think it is fair to, as your observation and comparison suggested, to categorise all two parent families in quite the derogatory terms of the example you quoted. I mean look there are good and bad two parent families. There are good and bad parents. That is not the issue.

I mean the issue is whether you believe, or society believes, in the principle that every child born in this world should have the expectation, other things being equal, of the care and love of a mother and a father, whether that is a reasonable principle.

Now, I happen to believe and the majority of my colleagues in the government happen to believe that that is a good principle and we think its a principle that’s worth supporting and its a principle that is worth promoting. It does not represent a negative value judgement on people who have a homosexual lifestyle. I have never wanted people in that situation to be discriminated against or persecuted and that is why I supported the former Labor governments legislation to over turn the Tasmanian anti homosexual laws. Its a question of whether you wish to positively assert that fundamental right of children and I think that fundamental right takes precedence over all other rights in this case.



DAVID HANCOCK, Balgowlah NSW: What the debate should be about is whether we should fund IVF at all. These procedures cost us huge amounts of money, and producing sickly and unhealthy premature babies most of the time. To what end? There are far more important areas where that money could be spent. Areas where people really suffer.

The way this turd floats these red-herrings and people who should know better bite makes me sick. The words of Bob Hughes after we lost the republican debate come to mind constantly these days………”The country’s not fucked, merely delayed”…………………

GEORGIA GRAY, Fairhaven: Do we know what polls say on this issue? It’s surely not just the Labor party which is divided. There must be some concerned people in the Liberal party? Maybe not. Bob Carr’s line seemed to diffuse it a bit with ‘this is a private matter for women and their doctors’. Labor just has to do what’s right eg. support human rights and get on with the big picture. I don’t reckon too many cross country people will change their vote on this. It will be forgotten soon if handled decisively.

DAVID, Our correspondent from Switzerland: John Howard may be the bad guy in this most recent issue regarding lesbians and IVF. His “tolerance without endorsement” is an interesting policy to say the least. Perhaps this is an example of where pandering to the masses is not always as attractive as it intuitively seems.

I don’t really see Labor as being very different though. Few mainstream politicians are prepared to go out on a limb on these kinds of issues.

This kind of discrimination cuts equally across both parties. Of course there are different aspects to the hardliners in each party but the end result is the same.

The “tolerance-speak” on both sides is just a thin veneer to cover up a great deal of very real intolerance. No influential politician (I mean REALLY influential) ever takes leadership on such issues.

Several continental European countries are a long way ahead of Australia in this regard. They may also be ahead of their respective publics but that isnt ALWAYS a bad thing.

This message may seem somewhat contradictory to prior messages … but there you go.

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