For Whitney and Megan Bacon-Evans, a family was always part of their future plans. However, like many queer couples, they were unprepared for the challenges they would encounter on their fertility journey. The couple, who have shared their lives for nearly 15 years, quickly decided that parenthood was a shared goal. Little did they know that they would confront what they call the “gay tax” when seeking fertility treatment through the NHS.
Whitney shared their initial struggles, stating that they felt “in the dark” as there were no precedents for families like theirs within the NHS. Even when they finally secured an NHS consultation, they received inaccurate information regarding the number of cycles required before becoming eligible for NHS in vitro fertilisation (IVF). They were initially told six cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI) were necessary, but the actual requirement turned out to be 12 cycles, each costing over £1,600.
Megan emphasized the unfair financial burden placed on same-sex female couples compared to the criteria for cisgender heterosexual couples, which merely necessitates two years of unprotected sex. This disparity, they argue, creates a “gay tax” on lesbian couples, exacerbating their struggles.
The Bacon-Evans couple, collectively known as ‘Wegan’ online, decided to take matters into their own hands. In 2021, they launched a landmark judicial review to campaign for fertility equality across the UK. As they shared their story and advocacy online, they discovered numerous other couples facing similar challenges, some even spending over £100,000 without meeting NHS criteria.
In a notable victory in July, their local ICB agreed to grant queer couples equal access to fertility treatment, but they aspire for broader change across all ICBs in England. Despite recognizing that the changes won’t directly benefit them due to their age, they believe in using their platform to bring about vital changes.
The Importance of Inclusivity in Fertility Journeys
While some LGBTQ+ couples, like Natalie and Danielle, opt for private routes due to the NHS’s limitations, they emphasize the importance of feeling included in the fertility journey. For Natalie, TFP Fertility UK, one of the UK’s largest IVF providers, provided a more inclusive experience that made her feel like an active part of the process.
Danielle stressed the difficulty non-carrying parents face in feeling included when they cannot experience the physical aspects of pregnancy. Their advice to others embarking on similar journeys is to “be picky” and not rush when choosing a system or organization for fertility treatments.
Government’s Pledge and Pending Changes
In July 2023, the government outlined its commitment to improving access to IVF for female same-sex couples by removing additional financial barriers, aiming for these changes to take effect during the same year. However, there hasn’t been a formal announcement regarding the timeline for these crucial reforms.
Megan and Whitney, who have tirelessly campaigned for fertility equality, remain hopeful but cautious. They have heard assurances that changes are imminent but are waiting for concrete actions. They urge the government to make their commitments mandatory, as it could significantly impact the lives of many LGBTQ+ couples.
The journey towards fertility equality for LGBTQ+ couples in the UK continues, with campaigners like Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans leading the charge, determined to make a lasting difference in the lives of countless families.