Since 1994, France has banned surrogacy and restricted access to reproductive technologies to heterosexual couples who have been married or living together for more than two years, forcing single women and lesbian couples to travel to neighboring countries for fertility treatments, and gay men to resort to surrogates in countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom. On Tuesday, the French National Assembly is scheduled to vote on a bill that would finally allow access to assisted reproductive technologies, including IVF, for unmarried women and lesbian couples. Under the proposed law, the treatments would be reimbursed by Social Security, and French doctors helping these women with fertility treatments would no longer face legal sanctions. Surrogacy, however, would remain illegal.

Outside of France, the bill — and the reaction to it from the French public — has been met with bemusement. Many observers have expressed surprise that IVF access in France was restricted in the first place — and even more surprise at the furious polemic that has been unleashed in response.

After a month of fierce legislative debates that have resulted in more than 2,000 proposed amendments to the bill, an estimated 75,000 marchers took to the streets of Paris on Oct. 6 in opposition. Some of the protesters dressed up as Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic, with red Phrygians caps and blue-white-red banners. Some waved flags calling for “Liberty, equality, paternity,” a reference to the revolutionary slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” while others carried posters with the motto “Marchons Enfants,” an allusion to the first words of the French national anthem.

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