Gay women call for IVF law reform

Haley Atkinson hadn’t planned on becoming a figurehead for gay rights. All she wanted was a baby. When she and a gay friend failed to conceive conventionally, they turned to IVF, which in Victoria is forbidden to gays.

They achieved the baby, notoriety and a court hearing. Ms Atkinson and Haydn’s father, Sergeant Mark Keen, then both police officers, were charged with having provided false information or failing to provide relevant information when applying for IVF treatment.

On Tuesday, they sat holding hands as the charges were dismissed by Mr John Hardy in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. He found there was no evidence against Ms Atkinson and insufficient evidence against Mr Keen. He awarded costs in their favor.

The media could not report the case until a suppression order on the proceedings was lifted yesterday.

Ms Atkinson, who has since resigned from the force, said she was relieved to have the ordeal over: “I have no regrets that I have a beautiful baby, but I wish it hadn’t had to have been such a big event.”
She said it was time the law was changed. “Every single person I have come across in shops or whatever has said (the charges) were a load of nonsense. People who know us say, `You’re good people; you deserve to bring up a child because you have a lot of love to give’.”

Ms Atkinson lives with her partner, Ms Joy Murphy, but Mr Keen is also involved in raising six-month-old Haydn. Both women regret that Ms Murphy has no legal rights over the child. She cannot adopt him without Ms Atkinson giving up her rights as a mother.

Ms Murphy said, “Legally, I don’t exist. But I see the look in Haydn’s eyes when I walk in the room. He loves me, and Haley knows it and Mark knows it.

“I may have no legal rights but Mark is the most decent man I have ever met. He wanted to buy a high chair when Haydn was born and he checked with Haley first about whether it would offend me. We are all good friends.”

Both women said that the Infertility Treatment Act contradicted the Equal Opportunity Act, which forbids discrimination in provision of services on the grounds of marital status or sexual orientation.

Dr Ruth McNair, convenor of the Fertility Access Rights Lobby, called on the State Government to make artificial insemination and IVF available to lesbians and single women.

She said New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania did not confine such treatments to married or de facto heterosexuals. International human rights covenants signed by Australia obliged governments to provide equal access to fertility services.

But the secretary of the Australian Family Association, Mr Bill Muehlenberg, said the rights of the child should also be considered, and the traditional family unit was the best way to raise children.

Mr Muehlenberg said the risk of child sexual abuse doubled in families where the child was not living with its biological father, and that in a homosexual relationship, only one partner could be a biological parent to the child.

The Minister for Health, Mr John Thwaites, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Ms Atkinson would like more children, but she will probably travel to NSW for treatment.

First published in The Age.