Like many women, Megan Bacon-Evans, 34, knew she wanted children from a young age. ‘When I fell in love with Whitney, I didn’t know what motherhood would look like for us as a same-sex couple. All we knew was that we wanted children.’
Megan and Whitney, 33, have been together for 13 years and married since 2017. In 2020, they began researching artificial insemination. ‘We looked at buying sperm from a licensed sperm bank, but we wanted a home insemination with a special kit we’d bought from the US,’ says Megan. ‘But you can only use sperm-bank sperm in a clinic using IUI [intrauterine insemination: inserting sperm into the womb], at £1,500, more if you need tests and medication. We didn’t know if any of this was available on the NHS, neither did our GP, so we paid privately.’
However, after spending £8,000, the couple – who are bloggers known as ‘Wegan’ to their 220,000 followers – started a petition after becoming increasingly angry about the fertility rules for LGBTQ+ people, dubbed a ‘gay tax’.
They’re now launching a legal case against their clinical commission group (CCG) for discrimination. CCG Frimley states that same-sex female couples must pay for 12 IUI or IVF treatments to prove infertility before qualifying for NHS help. Their policies comply with NICE (National Institute For Health And Care Excellence) guidance, and they deny discrimination. On 9 November, Megan and Whitney’s legal firm, backed by Stonewall UK and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), applied for a judicial review claiming discrimination due to sexuality under the Equality Act.
‘Fertility services are crucial in supporting the development of different family structures,’ says Marta Jansa Perez PhD, director of embryology at BPAS. ‘However, our research shows female same-sex couples and single women are disproportionately impacted by policies that require they self-finance costly and less effective IUI before becoming eligible for funded IVF. This amounts to a tax on LGBTQ+ families, and the impact can be devastating. One couple told us trying to access NHS-funded fertility treatment caused them to feel a “deep sadness at being gay”. The need for reform is urgent.’
‘Heterosexual couples need to have unprotected sex for two years to qualify for NHS help,’ explains Whitney. ‘There is no onus of proof or cost. Meanwhile, we were told we had to pay for 12 rounds of IUI or IVF first, at around £50,000. It’s unfair.’
Megan and Whitney say they hope to set a precedent. ‘This is for the couples who will come behind us,’ says Megan. ‘If people before us hadn’t pushed for gay marriage, we wouldn’t be wife and wife now. One follower told us her doctor asked why the NHS should help her have a child just because of her “lifestyle choice”. We’ve had an amazing response [to our campaign], although we’ve had a lot of hate, too. But why should same-sex couples have to simply accept their “infertility”, or decide between buying a house and having a child?’
The couple have been contacted by others who’ve got into debt trying to have a family (‘one couple spent £100,000’), and heard horror stories about women being put into potentially unsafe situations by getting sperm from unscreened donors. They also point out that any contract drawn up with a sperm donor outside a licensed clinic wouldn’t stand up in court, opening up the possibility of biological fathers having access rights further down the line.
In 2019, Matt Hancock, then Health Secretary, claimed that ‘sexual orientation should not be a factor in access to IVF’. That’s not Megan and Whitney’s experience. ‘When it comes to fertility treatment, everybody should have access to the same help. Why don’t we deserve a family too?’