Swedish singles demand access to fertility treatment

5:49 min

Femmis, a network of “single mums by choice”, believes society should help childless women get pregnant by extending fertility treatment to singles.

Single Swedish women who want to receive fertility treatment must go abroad to do so, and many choose to travel to neighbouring Denmark to undergo artificial insemination, for instance. However, this might change soon as the Swedish government is putting forward a legal proposal in the summer that would make it possible for single women who want to become pregnant to get help from the health care system.

The move has sparked debate, but members of Femmis – a network of women who have chosen to have kids on their own, without a man – think a legal amendment is long overdue. Femmis recently celebrated its tenth anniversary with a kids’ birthday party in central Stockholm that drew about 50 children and 40 mums. All the mums in Femmis have chosen to have kids on their own, without a man.

The organisation, says member Petra Hallenberg, “provides a network for single mums by choice and it also tries to change the laws of Sweden in order to make it possible to get fertility treatment here, too, regardless of your civil status.”

“And of course we also want to affect people's beliefs in norms,” adds Anna-Carin Carnebro, also a Femmis member. “Our families are equal to other families. We'd like to enhance the diversity of different kinds of families. It's not just about two heterosexual parents with two kids,” she says.

Hallenberg says that she has always felt that a child was more important to her than a partner, and when she reached her thirties, she was single and childless. So, she decided to get fertility treatment in Denmark.

Carnebro has a similar story, but she also had a medical condition and was warned that if she waited much longer, she might end up unable to get pregnant. She now has a 20-month old son called Viggo, while Hallenberg’s daughter, Ingrid, is two-and-a-half.

“There's always the possibility to meet someone later, but to meet someone and just get a child, I don't think that's the best way to actually have a relationship with someone. That's not responsible to me,” says Carnebro. “My own doctor said that he thought this was a better way of doing it. Otherwise you can go out at night and bring someone home and maybe you get pregnant but that's just really irresponsible.”

Most of Femmis' members have gone to clinics in Denmark, but some have used clinics in Eastern Europe, Spain and the UK. They have used methods like IVF, egg donation, embryo donation or intrauterine insemination, which involves inserting sperm into the uterus.

Now, Femmis members are hoping that, in the near future, women like them won't have to travel abroad. This summer, the Swedish government is putting forward a proposal to change the law and so far all parliamentary parties, apart from the Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats, have supported it.

“It would mean that society accepts us more. Legislation will have to change, like parental leave rules. And the medical sphere will be more supportive of us. It's not like our children are illegal at the moment, but they will be part of the society in a different way,” says Hallenberg.

But not everyone agrees that childless single women should get the same treatment as childless couples. Several regional councils, clinics and children's rights organisations in Sweden say that singles should undergo more thorough checks and examinations than couples before receiving medical assistance to get pregnant. They say that, apart from medical reviews, social services should also investigate wannabe single mums' finances, social networks, and employment situations.

If the state steps in to help bring a child to the world, then the state should also take responsibility for trying to ensure that the child grows up in a positive and healthy environment, the argument goes.

Hallenberg disagrees. “There are still adoptive parents who divorce even though they go through very thorough investigations,” she says. “You can do that investigation but you can still never guarantee that the child will have a perfect life throughout his or her entire childhood. Femmis thinks that those resources are better pulled into looking out for children who are in trouble already.”

But is there such a thing as a right to have children? Should the state take responsibility for helping women get pregnant and should tax payers foot the bill?

Femmis does not campaign for free-of-charge fertility treatments, says Petra Hallenberg. “We just want it to be equal to the couples.”

“Having a child is not a right, but it's a right to at least have the possibility to try to have a child,” Carnebro insists.

And how about single men? Should the state help them to have children, too? Hallenberg says that is an entirely different question. “There are loose-formed networks of gay men using surrogates for example but at the moment we don't feel that's our fight, though we are not against that in any way.”

Both Hallenberg and Carnebro feel that there is a growing acceptance in Sweden of single mums by choice and they say most negative reactions they've come across has been in the media.

“Hopefully, our work can also help counteract the prejudices that some of our members have met and still meet,” says Carnebro.