The French Justice Minister's instruction to courts to accept citizenship applications for children born via surrogates in other countries has unleashed a political and popular furore.
The minister, Christiane Taubira, issued the instruction during a debate on gay marriage. Immediately, ministers from the opposition UMP party accused the government of attempting to underhandedly introduce liberal legislation on surrogacy and access to IVF for gay couples. Surrogacy is illegal in France and fertility treatment only available to heterosexual couples.
After Taubira had presented the instruction to the French parliament, the head of the opposition UMP party, Jean-François Copé, declared that the government had 'let its mask drop' and that the instruction should immediately be withdrawn.
UMP MP Laurent Wauquiez, who leads a movement calling for a popular referendum on gay marriage, told a full French parliament that 'this law is just the beginning and [gay couples being entitled to] test-tube babies and surrogate mothers is where it will all end'.
According to the Associated Press, the debate 'has sent thousands into the streets, turned the bridges over the Seine into billboards and prompted charges that women's bodies will soon be for rent in a society that still has surprisingly deep conservative roots'.
Faced with such vociferous opposition, both Taubira and President François Hollande have sought to clarify their position. Talking to the press after a cabinet meeting, Taubira said: 'There isn't the slightest change in the position of either the President or the government. In law surrogacy is forbidden – there is no debate on that point'.
In fact the instruction concerns only children who are born via surrogacy overseas and ensures that they will be given French civil status - similar to nationality - when they arrive in France.
Currently many children born via surrogates exist in legal limbo with local courts refusing to grant them French civil status. During the recent debates, Claude Bartolone, a senior government member, called these people 'the ghosts of the republic' – a phrase that has caught on in the French media.
But the law has not been applied consistently (see BioNews 647) and a handful of children have been granted civil status. Speaking on Radio Classique, Aurélie Filipetti, the French Culture Minister, said that the instruction was 'simply a regularisation for the 40 or so children who find themselves in a completely Kafkaesque administrative scenario'.
Nonetheless the opposition has vowed to fight on, despite little chance of success. Philippe Gosselin, an opposition MP, told the Libération newspaper: 'The text that will get voted through parliament will be mostly unchanged. But when it comes to surrogacy we will not let up'.