Cabinet papers reveal John Howard’s attempts to restrict IVF treatment

Newly released historical cabinet papers from 2000 have revealed the Australian Federal Government’s efforts to restrict IVF treatment, and grrrrrr.

The 2000 Cabinet Papers reveal that then-PM John Howard led efforts to prevent gay couples and single people from accessing IVF.

John Howard was known as a Prime Minister whose policymaking was influenced by his own conservative values.

The Cabinet Papers from 2000 show that the Howard government actively explored ways to limit IVF treatment to married couples only, which at the time would rule out same sex couples, de-facto heterosexual couples, and singles.

For me it’s personal. Had Howard been successful, there’s a chance my two daughters may never have been born, given they were donor conceived and born to a single mother.

In July 2000, Justice Sundberg of the federal court of Australia ruled in McBain v Victoria that Victorian laws restricting IVF treatment to married couples would be inconsistent with section 22 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

The case, on which this ruling was made, had been brought by Dr John McBain, a Melbourne IVF doctor, who was treating Leesa Meldrum, a single woman who wanted to conceive through IVF using donor sperm.

The case made headlines around the country.

“We do take the view that, all things being equal, children are entitled to the opportunity of both a mother and a father,” Howard was quoted as saying at the time.

However, the Cabinet Papers show that the cabinet was advised that the prospects of a successful appeal by the commonwealth were slim.

In response, the Government began investigating amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to strengthen the right of states to restrict IVF treatments.

The result was a patchwork of inconsistent regulation across the country, with some states restricting IVF to married couples, and others restricting single women and gay couples from accessing some fertility treatments.

Prime Minister Howard steadfastly stuck to his ultra-conservative views, and in 2001 refused Liberals a conscience vote on the IVF exemption.

In 2010, the law in Victoria changed to allow IVF access for single women. My eldest daughter was one of the first donor-conceived children able to be born under the changes.

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