End the gay tax on IVF – fertility treatments should be free for all

Before my partner and I considered having a child, we had to save. Not for the extortionate childcare costs to come (that’s a different column altogether) but for the potential tens of thousands of pounds it would cost to get pregnant in the first place.

Fertility clinics love same-sex couples, they make huge profits from them. Fertility treatments include IUI (intrauterine insemination), which ranges from £700 to £1,600 per cycle in Britain, and IVF – one cycle costs between £6,000 and £10,000. For gay men, the process is even more costly. Of course, there is no guarantee of pregnancy and costs can mount quickly.

In most areas, opposite-sex couples in England can get initial treatments funded on the NHS. The extent of treatments on the NHS vastly differs from place to place – it’s already a deeply unfair postcode lottery, before you begin to factor in LGBT+ couples.

Unlike opposite-sex couples, who can access treatment after attempting to conceive for two years and telling their doctor they have been “trying”, 80 per cent of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) require same-sex women couples to go through a costly clinical process that proves they can’t get pregnant (and no, the NHS won’t allow you to “try” at home with a donation from a male friend and a turkey baster).

There are plenty of ways to attempt to get pregnant outside of a clinic, of course, but crucially for same-sex couples, this means someone else (who is not in your relationship) may have legal rights to your future child. Even if your kind friend, colleague or a stranger is initially happy to help and has zero interest in being a parent, things can change when a child comes along. It’s not a solution that works for all same-sex couples, just as it’s not a solution for many opposite-sex couples using fertility treatments.

Same-sex couples typically have to spend months and pay thousands to access NHS fertility services. In Southend West or Skipton and Ripon, for example, same-sex couples have to self-fund 12 cycles of insemination – that’s up to £19,200 and a year of clinical processes. Bearing in mind that if a woman has sex with a man on the day of ovulation, or the two days before, the chance of getting pregnant is around 30 per cent – not the best bet to make at £1,600 a go.

I’ve known LGBT+ couples who have had to postpone starting their families for years to be able to stump up the initial cash, resulting in it no longer being an option for them. And I’ve known couples who have simply run out of money during the process (which often has extra fees, like storage costs for sperm freezing).

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Having children does cost money, and the old adage “if you can’t afford to have kids, you shouldn’t have them” still applies, but most parents in the UK couldn’t hand over the eye-watering lump sum of £20,000 before having each of their children. The system is set up in a way that only LGBT+ families with money can have children. For the most part, if you are in an opposite-sex couple you can at least get some help trying to conceive.

We are extremely fortunate that our IVF worked, and feel extremely lucky to have our son – but the truth is that he wouldn’t be here today if we couldn’t afford the costly medical bills in our postcode. It’s wrong to restrict people from fertility treatments based on who they love and where they live. Same-sex couples should have equal rights to start a family.

To help navigate this complicated process, Stonewall UK has done extensive research and recently launched a handy online tool to allow lesbian, gay and bi women to see the state of IVF services in their area and contact their local MP to help change this disparity.

The government should commit to ending the inequality in access to NHS-funded fertility services in England – it’s time to end the postcode lottery for all, and give lesbians, bi women, and LGBT+ people equitable access to NHS-funded care.