Thousands of conservative activists marched through Paris on Sunday to protest a new French bioethics law allowing lesbian couples and single women the right to conceive children with medical help.

The new bill is French President Emmanuel Macron’s first major push for social reform in the field of reproductive technology, and would end discrimination over reproductive rights by enabling lesbian couples and single women access to medically-assisted procreation, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and sperm donation.

The protest began outside the Senate, where the new law will be decided this month, and proceeded to the Tour Montparnasse skyscraper in southern Paris. However, left-wing and pro-LGBTIQ groups were quick to counter-protest, and with police cut off several streets in case of violence. 

‘Where is my Dad?’ read placards as conservative Catholic groups and far-right activists passed the French senate. 

Many chanted: “Liberty, Equality, Paternity”, a play on the national French motto of  ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’.

Other protestors shouted: “Everyone needs a father.”

President of the Association of Catholic Families, Pascale Moriniere, said her group had distributed about three million flyers to protest the law in recent weeks. 

Speaking to DW, Moriniere remained adamant that the size of this week’s protest would match France’s 2012 protest against same-sex marriage.

“It’s not going to be derisory. It will probably be comparable to the first protest [against gay marriage] in 2012, with around 100,000 people,” she said.

Under current French law, only heterosexual couples who have been married or living together for more than two years have the right to access procedures such as artificial insemination, sperm donation or IVF.

While organisers of the protest had hoped for 100,000 people protesters, approximately 74,500 people took part in the rally, Franceinfo reported, citing the research company Occurrence, which had counted the participants.

Seven years ago, the legalisation of same-sex marriage in France was unique among neighbouring nations in sparking months of large street demonstrations, which saw violent conflicts between far-right groups and riot police, as well as leading to a rise in homophobic attacks.

The Manif Pour Tous, a group that fervently opposed gay marriage in France in 2013, has rebranded itself as Marchons Enfants and protested against the IVF bill in Paris, alongside sixteen other socially conservative groups.

“This protest is a warning to the government,” said the head of Marchons Enfants, Ludovine de la Rochère.

“We’ll fight to stop children being conceived without a father, you don’t make children in laboratories,” another demonstrator said. 

Sunday’s protestors came from all walks of life, from pensioners to couples with young children. 

A handful of politicians from the far-right National Rally party, presided over by conservative politician Marine Le Pen, were present at the protest. Politicians from the centre-right Les Républicains party also took part, despite divisions within the the party on the issue.

Last month, the lower house of the French Parliament approved the draft bioethics law. 

The bill must now be approved by the upper house, or Senate, before it can be passed.

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