Progressive lefties and libertarian liberals unite!

In the week before Parliament resumes, when the cultural wars will be toe-to-toe and eyeball-to-eyeball, IVF e-mails are running hot.

We have a wildly skewed readership judging from the poll results and e-mails. Progressive lefties and libertarian liberals unite! If you’re a cool-headed analytical type or even a professional or lay mediator, please consider getting your head around a summary of issues and angles and coming up with a diagram or something. I’ve read so many e-mails on IVF my mind’s a blur.


NICK: In a country where birth rates are stillborn or even negative, every cent that goes to ‘singles’ and ‘lezzo wannabes’ is well spent. Somebody has to have the bloody children.



DELL HOREY: What I find really hard to get my head around is the argument that this is about the rights of children to have both a mother and father. It is so weird because they seem to be setting themselves up as the defenders of children who don’t even yet exist – and they are so concerned about protecting their rights, they want to stop them from existing.

So women who do exist have to have their rights diminished unless they can find a man. It is even worse than the anti-abortion argument. The hierarchy of rights seems to be States then children then women!

Part of the problem is that most of the people in the Cabinet are unable to imagine that this issue would ever apply to them or people they love. Of course, their children and grandchildren will do the right thing, be heterosexual, find the perfect person to marry and have perfect babies etc etc. I just wonder how John Howard would see things if his daughter got to her late 30s and hadn’t found the “right man”?

While (the yet to exist) children must have their right to both a male and female parent apparently it is ok not to try to protect them from potential diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

There is a sense that this is about men claiming their relevance in society. Some men feel very threatened by the thought that they are not essential in happy family life – but I don’t think that women can claim that they are essential either – there are some great single parent families around with a male head. You can’t make generalisations about this and men and women have to make meaningful contributions not just think it comes just by being there.

The hurt from the debate is enormous – and it may explain the silence from the Liberal women. If they have witnessed anything like the response I have they probably don’t know what to do with all that anger. It isn’t only lesbians either. My dentist, who is a very calm and I would have thought conservative woman, asked me what I thought about the latest thing “our lovely PM” had to say. She was so angry that I was quite surprised. She was insulted that someone would suggest that as a single mother her child was being properly looked after. “I’m a very good parent,” she said and indignant that someone should suggest she should pick up someone if she wanted to have another child.

I am just so infuriated by the whole idea that some people in society (who just happen to be women) are permitted to participate fully when it comes to paying taxes and using skills and talents but others can determine whether they can have the right to use the services and resources available to others in community. Basically what is being said is that women can’t be trusted to make decisions on their own about what is good for them when it comes to children.

While in some ways I think it is a worthwhile debate to have – like a lot of other issues I worry about who ends up paying the cost for that public debate. It isn’t really the politicians who will be affected by it but women and children who didn’t ask for their private lives to be made so public.While there may be some long-term benefit, it could be very painful (I am thinking here of the teenage children of a lesbian friend who don’t want their schoolfriends to know about their mother’s sexuality).



BRENDON: Politicians create their meaning through division. Howard is a master of it. By demonising lesbian mothers, Howard has created another outcast group as a vehicle for building his group’s identity.

He did it with Aborigines during Wik (remember the map?). He’ll do it again before the next election with some other group. And those small l liberals will keep quiet as they did during Wik and have subsequently on mandatory sentencing – moral cowards the lot of them. They should read Dante (Inferno: Canto 111). They wait for Costello, but he won’t save them.

This talk of children’s rights I find particularly dishonest. Deconstruct it and they are saying, better not to be born rather than be born without a father. Are they serious? If they were, they would advocate abortion as a vehicle for social engineering. But of course that’s not what they mean.

They are saying, you must conform to our version of family and society or you can have no rights. Of course, the implication is that no one can have genuine rights because rights will always be conditional on conformity. So in the end it’s the same old authoritarian stuff wrapped up in the rhetoric of the rights of the child.

People who make family structure and conception processes an issue make the world smaller and sadder for all of us. But they divide and conquer only themselves.



CATHY BANNISTER: Howard claims that “every child needs a father and a mother”, and that, therefore, single mothers and lesbians should be barred from the IVF program. The extension of this is almost too backward to contemplate.

What next, denying Medicare payment for obstetric care for single and lesbian women? The same logic could be used to justify forced sterilisations: “We’re not discriminating against you as a lesbian, it’s just that any child you had would be so messed up it would be better for them if they didn’t exist.”

What’s so intrinsically important about “a mother and a father” anyway? Why not just two loving parents? Why not one loving parent and enough funding and social support to actually do a half decent job? It’s old fashioned Christian disapproval of non-trad families, pure and simple. The stance is otherwise totally indefensible.

He’s not even arguing the rights of the child but the rights of the hypothetical child. And this hypothetical child is being denied the right to exist, on the basis of it’s own hypothetical rights! At this point the logic disappears up it’s own fundament.

Never, ever, has a politician made me so angry.



EMMA BRIDGE, Hobart: The ethics of IVF are difficult – who could forget those early pictures of the beaming doctors who brought us the technology, who were always given credit for the babies as if the mothers were irrelevant in the process. Unfortunately our society still values reproduction so highly that those who cannot conceive are left feeling incomplete or failures. Unlike other cultures, we have no concept of the community sharing in the upbringing of children leaving direct parenting as the only way to “have” children. If we resolved this, maybe some of the pressure on reproductive technologies may lessen. Given the way we are though, I firmly believe all women should have equal access to the technology.

The irony of Howard championing the rights of children (to have a father in their lives) is almost laughable. Here is a government which has done nothing to improve conditions to allow working parents of either gender be more involved in their children’s lives.

Here is a government made up largely of men who have spent huge periods of time almost completely absent from their children’s lives.

Here is a government that will not apologise for a policy under which the State denied children the right to either a mother or father (well not a black one anyway).

Here are a bunch of hypocrites.

I find it distressing to see in a lot of the news coverage of this issue, how it has forced women to belittle other women’s mothering. The Victorian woman whose rights were being tested in the first place has been quoted as saying she will make a better mother than young women who sleep around and get pregnant (or something like that). Lesbians have been quoted as saying they are better mothers than another group of women and so we go on. As a mother and a daughter and a feminist I find this very sad, that women have been pitted against other women to come up with their “good mother” credentials. Lets not get sucked into that. We are all the best mothers we can be, sometimes that isn’t good enough but it is very very rarely from a lack of trying.



DAVID DAVIS,¬†our Switzerland correspondent: Your recent “random thoughts about the IVF debate” was quite incredible. Incredibly thought provoking and moving.

I liked the way you employed the term “the State”. To me, the term “the State” has particular overtones which make me feel uneasy. I don’t want “the State” in my life. Who does?

We don’t need the State to be making value judgments and choices like these. I really thought that respect for individual choice was a core Liberal philosophy (as you say). I always thought it was one of the most attractive aspects of the Liberal Party that was under-promoted.

But then, I suppose it is no use promoting something that isn’t really respected and enacted in practical ways by the people at the top. People that do have a coherent philosophy will always be marginalised and fail in politics. Politics is the art of compromise, sell-out and the lowest common denominator.

I haven’t noticed the Australian Tax Office making value judgments when it takes the money from us. So one arm of government takes our personal resources without discrimination, while another arm of government in the form of Medicare then nominates some people as worthy and others as not. It’s really quite sickening.

This is just good old fashoned politics and discrimination in the most pure form imaginable.

It hurts people to the core though. They can dress it up however they like but they can’t run away from the reality. The reality is they are pointing a discriminating, intolerant finger at certain Australians and are deeming them to be unworthy.

The rhetoric becomes really offensive when you are personally affected or know someone who is.

The story of your friend is very moving. I can understand how hurt she would be and really love the idea that she’s fighting back with the support of her friends.

Unless people stand up and be counted, we will be stuck with the medieval mindset for a lot longer.



CAROLYN: How very strange that you should treat facetiously the “right” of children to a mother and father, yet totally accept the very modern, very recent, and entirely unsupportable concept of the “right” to have a child.

No government in the world can legislate to give anyone the “right” to have a child, the whole notion of such a right is entirely artificial (no pun intended). Why has the public and the media accepted such a nonsensical right?

If we accept that everyone (let’s include men as well as women here, shall we?) has the right to have a child, or many children, then, by the same logic that you deride the concept of a child’s right to a mother & father, that is, “Should a child be able to sue his or her mother for failing to ensure a father on hand?”, we are led, inevitably, to the question “Should a person be able to sue the Government for failing to ensure they have a children if they want them?”

The next step, logically, is the right, not just to have a baby but to bare a healthy baby, followed by the right to bare a healthy, happy, intelligent and grateful child etc, etc. When the initial concept is so utterly artificial, there is no natural point at which to stop. The perversity of treating babies as a consumer item has no natural or social boundaries.

Let’s stop pretending that there is something good or altruistic about any of this: if single women can demand to be impregnated with tax payers’ financial support, the next logical step is that single men, of whatever persuasion, should also be permitted to buy a baby with taxpayers’ financial support.

Never, never, in history have children been so totally treated as a commodity to satisfy the unquenchable wants of adults (not needs, wants!). Whether taxpayer funded or not, is it really a reflection of a healthy society, and healthy adults, if we treat conception and children as an entitlement to be exercised regardless of how extreme or artificial the means required to achieve that entitlement? And regardless of the consequences and lifetime impact on the children concerned?

No amount of parental love and devotion can override fundamental social constructs that can & will damage a lot of these proposed children. What a self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-indulgent, bratty generation of adults we have become.

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