Donor insemination and fertility treatment
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Donor insemination and fertility treatment

Disclaimer: please note the below information is a number of years old and does not necessarily represent the current landscape. We're working to update the information, and to ensure it's fully bi and trans inclusive. This guidance has been written for same-sex female couples who are planning to conceive a child through artificial insemination. For more information on how the rules apply to trans people please see our page on Trans Parenting Rights.

What is donor insemination?

Donor insemination involves using donor sperm. This can be obtained by using an anonymous sperm donor (from a sperm bank), or using a known donor or a friend. All information below is for babies that are conceived, through donor insemination, after 6 April 2009 when laws changed affecting the rights of same-sex female couples. If you donated sperm, eggs or embryos after 1 April 2005, people conceived from your donation will be able to find out the following information when they reach 16 and 18 years of age.

In the UK, women can inseminate through a licensed fertility clinic or at home. Depending on which method you use there are implications with regards to legal parenthood.

For couples in a civil partnership or marriage

If a baby is conceived in a UK licensed fertility clinic or at home and the couple are in a civil partnership or married, then the non-birth mother will automatically be the second legal parent and will be named as such on the birth certificate. The donor will have no legal parenthood status. 

For couples not in a civil partnership or marriage

If a baby is conceived in a UK licensed fertility clinic and the couple are not in a civil partnership or married, they will need to complete a simple form at the clinic for the non-birth mother to be the legal parent, and to appear on the birth certificate. The donor will have no legal parenthood status. 

If the baby is conceived outside of a UK licensed fertility clinic and the couple are not in a civil partnership or married, the non-birth mother must apply to adopt the child to gain legal rights.

Fertility treatment

For many, the first place to go for information about fertility treatment is their GP. They can give you advice on the services available, help with health checks, and advise you whether you'll be eligible for NHS fertility funding.

NHS funding for fertility treatment is limited for everyone, and what is available varies from place to place, with criteria set by each area's Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Until February 2013, there was no official guidance on what NHS funding should be offered to same-sex female couples seeking fertility treatment. Now CCG's can refer to guidelines published by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). This guidance offers NHS trusts best practice for the assessment and treatment of people with fertility problems. For the first time, these guidelines set out what same-sex female couples can expect when looking for fertility treatment.

What does the NICE guidance say?

NICE’s guidance says that couples must attempt to conceive before being considered for NHS treatment. Opposite-sex couples are expected to try and conceive through sexual intercourse for two years before being considered. This is obviously not an option for female same-sex couples.

The NICE guidance therefore expects female same-sex couples to have tried to conceive six times using artificial insemination (funded themselves, not by the NHS) before they would be considered for NHS-funded fertility treatment.

The guidance does not stipulate whether couples need to try to conceive using a fertility clinic, or whether attempts to conceive at home with donor sperm makes you eligible for NHS treatment. This is a decision for your local NHS trust to make. Many NHS trusts will require same-sex couples to use fertility clinics to conceive before considering funding treatment, meaning many same-sex couples will need to pay fees before being eligible for NHS funded treatment.

Why might I be expected to pay for fertility treatment?

Your NHS trust will make its own decision about whether they expect you to try to conceive six times at a clinic (for a fee) or at home (for free). Stonewall expects many trusts to say you have to try to do so at a clinic, as they will want you to try to conceive using a safe and clinically effective method of conception, using approved and tested sperm.

Other criteria

Even if you have tried to conceive six times, you still may not be eligible for NHS funded treatment in your local area. Your local NHS trust will have a number of other criteria that you may also need to meet before they will fund treatment. These can include things like your age, whether you smoke, and other lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and levels of fitness.

It is therefore important to find out what your local NHS trust's criteria on funding fertility treatment before beginning the process of conceiving.

The law is clear, however, that these criteria should apply equally to opposite-sex and same-sex couples – it would be unlawful for a trust to deny you fertility treatment simply because you are a same-sex couple.

You can find more information in the guides below, but please note both of these guides are a number of years old and do not necessarily represent the current landscape around adoption, donor insemination and fertility treatment. We're working to update them, and to ensure they are bi and trans inclusive.

Pregnant Pause: A guide for lesbians on how to get pregnant

A Guide for Gay Dads

The Law Commission of England and Wales, and the Scottish Law Commission, held a consultation on reforms in 2019. They are expected to publish their final recommendations for law reform, and a draft bill setting out proposals for a new law, in 2021.

Other useful sources of support 

Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority:

For further information contact Stonewall's Information Service.