Same-sex couples are leading the fight for IVF equality in England

One couple speaking out for IVF equality is 34-year-old football referee Stacey Pearson and her partner, Danielle Beazer, 35. The pair fell pregnant with their daughter Willow, now three years old, after using IVF for the first time. It wasn’t until they began attempts for their second child that they became aware of the struggles same-sex couples face in order to qualify for NHS-funded IVF. 

Pearson and Beazer went through a costly failed transfer in 2019, and two miscarriages in the following years. During one transfer attempt, issues with thawing the sperm resulted in an unexpected £12,000 bill, which, on top of other costs, had to be paid in a matter of hours. 

“Unless you’ve been through IVF or know someone going through IVF, I don’t think you understand how much of an emotionally draining process it is. To have that extra financial burden on top of that just adds another layer of stress to it,” Pearson said.

The couple started an online petition earlier this year calling for equal NHS funding for same-sex couples using IVF in England. It has amassed nearly 54,000 signatures in total, and has a long-term aim of having the issue discussed in parliament.

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Pearson believes England’s IVF system is outdated. “The more you research into fertility, the more you realise it’s not just same-sex couples facing discrimination,” she said. “It’s especially difficult for us, but it’s also bad for single mums and women with partners who already have a child from a previous marriage. They would have to pay too.”

There have also been numerous cases in England of women being denied IVF if they are over the age of 40. “I just think it needs to be a fair playing field,” Pearson said. “There’s lots of flaws in the whole system, so I think there needs to be a complete review of how the funding is distributed.”

In 2019, then-health secretary Matt Hancock announced plans to conduct a review into the fertility process for same-sex couples, stating that “sexual orientation should not be a factor in access to IVF”. Despite being told to expect an update by the end of the year, Pearson and Beazer have still not been informed of any progress made since 2019.

In July, Conservative MP Helen Whately stated that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had begun scoping a review of the current guidelines for same-sex fertility treatment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told The Big Issue: “We are clear there should be equal access across England, and that Clinical Commissioning Groups should commission fertility services in line with NICE fertility guidelines. These set out that same sex couples are entitled to NHS IVF services if they have demonstrated their clinical infertility.”

Meanwhile, Pearson and Beazer’s petition has caught the attention of Daniel ShenSmith, a barrister from Staffordshire. ShenSmith is co-founder of a law firm and often creates videos offering legal explainers to his 45,000 subscribers on YouTube. 

In a video response to the couple’s petition, ShenSmith suggested that England’s IVF policy for same-sex couples could be breaking the 2010 Equality Act. The bill was put in place to protect those with certain personal characteristics from discrimination. This includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“It is unlawful to treat someone with a protected characteristic less favourably than others, either directly or indirectly. For example, putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put a person with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage,” ShenSmith told The Big Issue.

“In my view, this clearly puts women in same-sex relationships at an unlawful and unfair disadvantage,” he said. “Frustration is justified in such situations where public bodies apply a set of rules that plainly discriminate against certain groups, and I hope the situation is corrected forthwith.”

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